Skip to main content


See other formats

kansascity 51 public library 

kansas city, missouri 

Books will be issued only 

on presentation of library card. 
Please report lost cards and 

change of residence promptly. 
Card holders are responsible for 

all books, records, films, pictures 
or other library materials 
checked out on their cards. 




Seafarers and Sea Fighters 
of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times 

Seafarers and Sea Fighters of the 




Mediterranean in Ancient Times 

Lionel Casson 

The Macmillan Company 
New York 










viii Foreword 

ley with slaves, that he could not sail against the wind, and so on is 
utterly wrong. 

Probably this story could not have been properly told until now. 
Up to a half-century or so ago we had only the writings of ancient 
authors to supply information. Today we can draw on the findings of 
hundreds of archaeological excavations; these have laid bare mari- 
time civilizations hitherto unknown, yielded an infinite variety of 
objects of trade, and even turned up priceless written documents, 
from the official records of the Athens Naval Base on imperishable 
stone to a tattered fragment of a maritime contract between some 
obscure businessmen on fragile papyrus. Moreover, in the last dec- 
ade, the new science of underwater archaeology has enabled us to 
explore the actual remains of ancient wrecks. There are still gaps in 
our knowledge, but far fewer than there were fifty years ago. 

The Ancient Mariners is addressed first and foremost to the gen- 
eral reader. Yet, since there is no other book in any language that 
covers the field, I have tried to straddle the fence and make it useful 
for scholars as well. I have given the sources of all illustrative ma- 
terial and citations. Though there are no footnotes, I have included 
two appendices that I hope will to some extent replace them. One is a 
selected bibliography: the books listed not only supply the source of 
most of the information in the text, but enable whoever is interested 
to pursue any phase in greater detail. The other is an index of 
Greek and Latin nautical terms cross-referenced to the text; a reader 
can, by looking up these words in the large lexicons, find many of 
the passages in ancient authors which have supplied significant in- 
formation. I hope, too, that the index will prove useful to those 
who still take pleasure in reading the literature of Greece or Rome in 
the original; nautical terms can be a stumbling block to even an 
accomplished classicist, for the standard lexicons all too frequently 
define them in ways that are either meaninglessly vague or downright 

Many people helped me in many ways with this book; I have space 
to acknowledge only my most important debts. A fellowship from 
the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, by providing a 
precious opportunity to travel abroad for over a year, enabled me to 
investigate the sites of scores of ancient Mediterranean harbors, to 
search obscure corners of museums and come upon evidence that I 

Foreword ix 

would otherwise never have known of, and to use the unique facil- 
ities of half a dozen European libraries. I took particular pains to 
secure apt and clear illustrations; a number of institutions and in- 
dividuals were of great assistance and their help is acknowledged at 
appropriate points in the list of plates. I must mention in particular 
Mr. Ernest Nash of the Fototeca Unione in Rome; I owe much to his 
eager and fruitful cooperation and to the splendid resources of the 
archive he heads. A number of the chapters have benefited from the 
remarks of my good friends, Professor Saul Weinberg and Professor 
Naphtali Lewis. Chapter 13 owes much to the generous cooperation 
of Fernand Benoit, Director of the Museum of Archaeology at 
Marseilles. But far and away my greatest debt is the one I owe 
my father. He passed a careful and critical eye over the language and 
phrasing of every sentence in the manuscript; as a result, there is 
hardly a page in the book that has not profited from his comments 
and suggestions. 


Foreword vii 

1 Down to the Sea in Ships i 

2 International Trade Begins 4 

3 War on the Sea 37 

4 Raiders and Traders 43 

5 The Dawn of Maritime Exploration 58 

6 Westward Ho! 66 

7 The Wooden Walls 89 

8 The Merchants of Athens 108 

9 Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 128 

10 The Age of Titans 141 

11 Landlubbers to Sea Lords 157 

12 East Meets West 173 

13 Sea Digging !8 9 

14 The Pirates of Cilicia 198 


xii Contents 

15 Rome Rules the Waves 

16 All Routes Lead to Rome M 

17 An End and a Beginning 24O 
Table of Dates 

Selected Bibliography 

Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 




Hatshepsut's fleet at Punt. 12 

From A. Mariette, Deir-el-Bahari (Leipzig, 1877), pi. 6. 

See pp. 13-14, 16. 

Arrival of a fleet of Phoenician vessels in an Egyptian port. 19 
From Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 33 (i947) > P 1 - 
vii. See pp. 17-18, 22, 25. 

Ramses Ill's fleet defeats the Northerners of the Isles. 4 

From Medinet Habu, vol. i (Publications of the Ori- 
ental Institute, University of Chicago, no. 8, 1930) , 
pi. 37. See pp. 33, 41. 

Reconstruction of the corvus. 

From H. Wallinga, The Boarding-Bridge of the 
Romans (Groningen, 1956), fig. 11. See pp. 161, 162, 
164, 166. 

Anchor with removable stock from one of Caligula's barges. 

Made of iron sheathed in wood. 1 9 

From G. Ucelli, Le navi di Nemi (Rome, second edi- 
tion, 1950) , fig. 270. See p. 197- . . 

Reconstruction of the sailing maneuvers pictured in Flate 

i3a. Seep. 221. 221 


xiv plates 


! The Mediterranean and Black Seas Front Endpaper 

2 The Eastern Mediterranean 6 ~7 

a Africa and Western Europe 1 3 

4 The Near and Far East Rear Endpaper 


(Plates i through 8 follow page 90.) 

i Early Boats 

a. Clay model of a sailing (?) skiff found at Eridu in 
southern Mesopotamia. Ca. 3500 or 3400 B.C. 
Photograph by Frank Scherschel, reproduced by courtesy 
of Life Magazine; copyright 1956 Time Inc. See p. 2. 

b. Drawing of a sailboat on pottery from southern Egypt. 
Ca. 2900 B.C. 

From H. Frankfort, Studies in Early Pottery of the Near 
East (London, 1924), pi. xiii-i. See p. 2. 
c Merchantman on a Minoan seal. Ca. 2000 B.C. The high 
end is the prow. 

From A. Evans, The Palace of Minos at Knossos, vol. i 
(London, 1921), p. 118, fig. 87-7. See pp. 25, 216. 

d. Sailor fighting a sea monster. On a Minoan seal, ca. 

16OO B.C. 

From Evans, Palace of Minos, vol. i, p. 698, fig. 520. See 

p. 23. 

e. Galley on a Minoan seal. Ca. 1600 B.C. 

From Evans, Palace of Minos, vol. 2, part i (London, 
1928) , p. 243, fig. 139- See PP- *5 

Plates xv 

2 Egyptian Seagoing Ships 

a. Ship of Pharaoh Sahure, ca. 2550 B.C. Model in the col- 
lection of the Department of Classics of New York 
University. See pp. 15, 27. 

b. Model of Ship of Queen Hatshepsut, ca. 1500 B.C. 
Made by Mr. V. O. Lawson and now in the Art Gallery 
and Museum, Glasgow. Photograph courtesy of the 
museum. See p. 16. 

3 Aegean Warships, 2000-800 B.C. 

a. Warships drawn on the backs of mirrors found on Syros 
in the Cyclades. Ca. 2000 B.C. 

From Evans, Palace of Minos, vol. 2, part i (London, 
1928) , p. 241, fig. 138. See p. 41. 

b. Galley, probably 5o-oared, on a cylindrical clay box 
found at Pylos. Ca. 1200-1100 B.C. 

From Archaiologike Ephemeris (1914), pp. 108-109, 
figs. 14-15. See p. 41. 

c. Galley on a vase found at Asine. Ca. 1200-1 100 B.C. 
From O. Frodin and A. Persson, Asine. Results of the 
Swedish Excavations 1922-2930 (Stockholm, 1938) , fig. 
207-2. See pp. 41, 84. 

d. Galley on a cup found at Eleusis (Eleusis Museum 741; 
on the original the ship faces left) . Ca. 850-800 B.C. 
From A. Koster, Das antike Seewesen (Berlin, 1923) , 
pi. 30. See pp. 83, 86. 

4 Greek Warships, 800-700 B.C. 

a. Galley, probably 2O-oared, cruising. 

From an Athenian vase now in the Louvre (Louvre 
Asi7). Reproduced from Koster, pi. 18. See pp. 83, 84. 

b. Galley, probably 5O-oared, preparing to shove off. From 
a bowl found at Thebes and now in the British Museum. 
The vessel has only one bank of oars: the artist, wanting 
to include both port and starboard rowers but not able 

xvi Plates 

to handle the perspective involved, naively portrayed 

the one above the other. 

From Koster, pi. 19. See pp. 83, 84. 

c. Forward part of a galley showing the key-like tholepins. 
From an Athenian vase now in the Louvre (Louvre 
A527). Reproduced from Koster, pi. 21. See pp. 83, 84, 85. 

d. After portion of a galley in action. 

From an Athenian vase now in the Louvre (Louvre 
). Reproduced from Koster, pi. 24. See pp. 83, 84. 

5 Greek Warships, 600-500 B.C. 

a. Galley, probably so-oared, cruising. 

From an Athenian bowl in the Metropolitan Museum of 
Art (Metro. Mus. 07.286.76, Rogers Fund 1907). Photo- 
graph courtesy of the museum. See p. 85. 

b. Galley, probably 5o-oared, cruising. 

From an Athenian pitcher in the Louvre (Louvre F6i). 
Photo Giraudon. See p. 85. 

c. Galleys cruising under sail; note the ports in the gun- 
wales for the oars. 

From an Athenian cup in the Louvre (Louvre Fi23). 
Photo Giraudon. See p. 85. 

6 Merchantman and Two-Banked Warships, 700-500 B.C. 

a. Merchantman on a vase from Cyprus, ca. 700-600 B.C. 
In the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Metro. Mus., Ces- 
nola Collection 761, purchased by subscription 1874-74) ; 
photograph courtesy of the museum. See p. 87. 

b. Two-banked galley, probably 5O-oared, in action. 
From an Etruscan pitcher of the sixth century B.C. in the 
British Museum (Brit. Mus. s6o) ; reproduced from 
H. B. Walters, Catalogue of the Greek and Etruscan 
Vases in the British Museum. Vol. II, Black-Figured 
Vases (London, 1893) > P 1 - * See P- 86. 

c. Relief from Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh showing a 
two-banked Phoenician galley. Ca. 705-686 B.C. Now 
in the British Museum; photograph courtesy of the 
museum. See p. 86. 

Plates xvii 

7 Merchantman and Pirate Craft, Ca. 540-500 B.C. 

a. Hemiolia, so-oared, overtaking a merchantman traveling 
under shortened sail. 

From an Athenian cup, ca. 540-500 B.C., in the British 
Museum (Brit. Mus. 6436); photograph courtesy of the 
museum. See pp. 86, 87. 

b. From the same cup as &. The hemiolia has now secured 
the upper bank of oars abaft the mast and is preparing 
to lower the mast it already leans slightly aft as a 
preliminary to boarding. The merchantman now has all 
its canvas drawing in the effort to escape. See pp. 86, 87. 

8 The Greek Trireme 

a. Reconstructed cross-section of a fifth century Athenian 
trireme showing the arrangement of the rowers; flat plat- 
form at right represents the waterline. 

From a model made by J. S. Morrison of Trinity College, 
Cambridge, and now in the National Maritime Museum, 
Greenwich. Photograph courtesy of Mr. Morrison. See 

PP- 92, 93- 

b. A fifth century Athenian trireme cruising. Sketch by 
Mr. I. S. Michelman of New York City. See p. 92. 

(Plates 9 through 16 follow page 218.) 

9 The Standard Ancient Shipping Container: the Clay Jar 

a. Amphorae from a wreck, dating around the end of the 
first century B.C. or the beginning of the first A.D., on the 
sea floor near the lie du Levant off Hy&res on the French 

Photograph by Y. de Rolland of the Club Alpin Sous- 
Marin in Cannes, supplied through the courtesy of F. 
Benoit, Director of the Muse Bor^ly, Marseilles. See 
pp. 192, 194. 

b. A Roman merchantman traveling under sails and oars 
with a full deck-load of amphorae. Mosaic of the second 

xviii Plates 

or third century A.D. from Tebessa in Algeria. See pp. 
193, 214, 215, 216. 

10 Roman Warships 

a. One of the heavy ships that fought in the Battle of 
Actium in 31 B.C. (symbolized by the crocodile) ; relief 
found at Palestrina near Rome and now in the Vatican 
Museum. The vessel has two banks of oars, each oar 
probably manned by multiple rowers. It is cataphract, 
that is, fenced in on top (by a deck) and sides. Forward 
is the mast for the artemon and, behind it, a turret. The 
flat relief of the head of Medusa perhaps represents the 
vessel's name; the niche behind has a female bust, pos- 
sibly of a goddess. 

Photo Alinari. See pp. 92, 99, 145, 148, 213, 214. 

b. A portion of the relief decorating the column of Trajan 
(A.D. 98-117) in Rome. Two-banked Liburnians under 
oars, and a trireme under oars and the artemon, arrive 
at a port. See pp. 92, 94, 146, 213. 

1 1 Roman Warships and Merchantmen 

a. Two-banked galley on the Nile, most likely a Liburnian 
attached to the fleet stationed at Alexandria. From a 
mosaic of the late first century B.C. or the first A.D. found 
at Palestrina and now in the Palazzo Barberini there. 
The stern ornament is virtually the same as that found 
on Greek warships of the sixth century B.C. (pi. 5) . See 
pp. 92, 210, 213. 

b. Mosaic on the floor outside the office maintained at Ostia 
by the Shippers of Sullecthum ([Navic]ulari Syllecti[ni]) 9 
a town on the Tunisian coast very near Mahdia; second 
to third century A.D. Two merchantmen, one entering 
and one leaving, a harbor; in the background a light- 
house. The vessel on the left has three masts and the 
bow profile with projecting forefoot. See pp. 146, 214, 
216, 218, 226. 

Plates xix 

12 Merchantmen in the Harbor at Portus. Relief found at Portus 

and now in the Torlonia Collection, Rome; ca. A.D. 200. 
Behind the dock at the right a triumphal arch, with a 
chariot drawn by elephants on top, is visible. In the upper 
right-hand corner is Liber, god of wine, after whom the 
vessels are named; note his picture carved on their prows. 
See pp. 174, 195, 214, 216, 217, 218, 220, 225, 235. 

13 Merchantmen and Warships of the Roman Empire 

a. Three merchantmen at the entrance to the harbor of 
Portus. Relief from a sarcophagus of the third century 
A.D. probably found at Ostia and now in the Ny-Carls- 
berg Glyptothek, Copenhagen. 

Photo Alinari. See pp. 214, 216, 217, 219, 220, 225. 

b. Detail of the above showing the sprit. 

c. Roman warships, probably Liburnians, racing across the 
waters of a harbor. Fresco from the Temple of Isis in 
Pompeii and now in the Naples Museum. First century 

Photograph Fototeca Unione, Rome. See pp. 92, 213. 

14 Merchantmen of the Roman Empire 

a. Model of a large merchantman. 

In the collection of the Department of Classics of New 
York University. See pp. 214, 216, 217, 218. 

b. Small freighter, probably the type used to carry grain 
from Portus or Ostia to the docks on the Tiber; fresco, 
of the second or third century A.D., found at Ostia and 
now in the Vatican Museum. Since the mast is stepped 
rather far forward, the vessel probably had some form of 
fore-and-aft rig, perhaps a sprit. It is named the Isis 
Giminiana. Farnaces, the skipper (magister), stands by 
at the steering oars. Stevedores carry sacks of grain 
aboard which are emptied into an official measure under 
the eyes of the vessel's owner, Abascantus, and of a gov- 
ernment inspector (holding an olive branch) . A steve- 

xx Plates 

dore who has already emptied his sack rests in the bows. 
The fresco probably adorned Abascantus' tomb. 
Photo Alinari. See pp. 214, 216, 219, 225. 

15 Small Craft of the Roman Empire 

a. A shipwright at work; relief on a tombstone in the 
museum at Ravenna. The inscription means, "Longi- 
dienus pushes ahead on his work." See pp. 214, 216. 

b. Skiff in the act of warping a vessel into harbor; relief on 
a tomb, presumably that of the owner, a "tugboatman," 
in the Isola Sacra, the cemetery for Portus. The towing 
line runs from the stern upward and off to the left. 
The steering oar is oversize to provide enough leverage 
to direct the clumsy tow. With the mast set so far up in 
the bows, the boat must have carried some form of fore- 
and-aft rig, probably a sprit. 

Photograph Fototeca Unione, Rome. See pp. 214, 219, 

c. Boat rigged with a short-luffed lug. Relief on a tomb- 
stone found in the Piraeus and now in the National 
Museum, Athens, 

Reproduced from A. Conze, Die attischen Grabreliefs 
(Berlin 1893-1922) , vol. 4, no. 2064, pi. 451. See pp. 
214, 219. 

d. Vessel traveling "wing and wing" under two spritsails. 
Relief on a tombstone in the Archaeological Museum, 
Istanbul. Photograph courtesy of the museum. See p. 219. 

16 The Byzantine Age 

a. Model of a dromon of the tenth century A.D. Made by 
R. H. Dolley of the British Museum. Photograph cour- 
tesy of Mr. Dolley. See p. 243. 

b. Ship of the fleet of Emperor Michael II (A.D. 820-829) 
destroying an enemy with "Greek fire." 

From an illustration in a fourteenth century manuscript 
of loannes Scylitzes in the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid. 
Photograph courtesy of the Biblioteca. See p. 243. 



Seafarers and Sea Fighters 
of the Mediterranean in Ancient Times 


to the Sea 

in Ships 

IN THE VERY BEGINNING men went down, not to the sea but to quiet 
waters, and not in ships but in anything that would float: logs that 
could be straddled, rafts of wood or of bundles of reeds, perhaps 
even inflated skins. 

But these were floats, not boats. The first true boat something 
that would carry a man upon water and at the same time keep him 
dry was very likely the dugout, although experiments with bound 
reeds or with skins stretched over light frames must have been made 
quite early too. And, when the desire or need arose for something 
bigger than what could be hollowed out of the largest logs avail- 
able, the boat made of planks came into being. This was one of 
prehistoric man's most outstanding achievements; the credit for it 
probably goes to the Egyptians of the fourth millennium B.C. 

As long as they stayed in shallow waters, men could propel their 
boats with punting poles. Farther out they used their hands and 
this led them to devise the paddle, a wooden hand as it were, and 
soon afterward the oar. Then they hit upon something that revolu- 
tionized travel: they learned how to use the wind. For the first time 
they harnessed a force other than their own muscles, their servants', 

2 The Ancient Mariners 

their animals' or their wives'. It was a discovery whose effects 
reached down the ages: from this moment on, the easiest and cheap- 
est way of transporting bulky loads over distances of any appre- 
ciable length was by water. This is the point at which the story of 
the ancient mariners really starts; the scene again is Egypt, or per- 
haps Mesopotamia. 

In southern Egypt archaeologists have found hundreds of pictures 
of boats which, shortly before 2900 B.C., were drawn helter-skelter 
on rock outcrops or which were included as part of the decoration 
on pottery (PL ib) . Among them are some which show, stepped 
amidships or forward of amidships, a mast with a broad squaresail 
hung upon it. 

No representations of sails discovered elsewhere come near to 
being as old as these. However, in Mesopotamia, a land whose civil- 
ization is as old as Egypt's, something has been unearthed that 
perhaps pushes this epoch-making invention as much as a half- 
millennium further back. Not long ago, while digging at Eridu, in 
the level that dates around 3500 or 3400 B.C., excavators came upon 
a little clay model of a boat (PL la) . The town is now well inland; 
but the coast line in its vicinity has changed and in those days it 
sat upon the shores of the Persian Gulf. The model is of a small 
skiff, no doubt the sort used for fishing or short trips along the 
coast. In the center of the floor, somewhat forward of amidships, it 
has a sturdy round socket and, on either side, a hole has been 
pierced in the gunwale. The socket may have held a figure or a 
standard of some kind, but it looks very much as if it was there 
to receive a mast, and the holes a pair of stays. 

Who first realized the far-reaching potentialities of the sailing 
ship and dared to use it to strike out beyond their own shores? For 
the age that predates recorded history there is nothing to go on 
beyond what the archaeologists dig up, and this is ambiguous: you 
can never be sure whether a prehistoric object of one country that 
turns up in another got there by sea or land. Yet, in the light of 
what follows (pp. 4-10), it seems most likely that the first true sea 
voyages were made by Egyptians who worked northward along the 
coasts of Palestine and Syria or southward down the Red Sea, and 

Down to the Sea in Ships 3 

by Mesopotamians who sailed down the Persian Gulf and perhaps 
into the Indian Ocean. 

Egypt and Mesopotamia, then, had a head start over the rest of 
the world in the art of sailing, as in so much else. But, as time 
passed, all along the coasts of the Mediterranean men started to go 
down to the sea. In the prehistoric age and long thereafter these 
shores did not have the bare aspect they show today but in many 
places were mantled by forests which provided logs for the earliest 
dugouts and timber for the keels, ribs, and planks of their more 
complicated progeny. 

How far did these primitive Mediterranean mariners sail? Did 
they by and large stick to their own shores or did they venture on 
long voyages? That their ships were probably quite frail need not 
have stopped them; Polynesian sailors covered impressive distances 
in boats that were very likely no sturdier. There are tantalizing 
archaeological clues which seem to imply trade links between the 
older civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean and western Europe 
of prehistoric times: beads of Egyptian faience have turned up in 
Britain, and there are carvings on Stonehenge that look for all the 
world like the symbol of the double-ax which the Cretans favored 
(p. 20); in Brittany necklaces have been found of a mineral, a rare 
green phosphate, that seems to be native to the Near East; Spanish 
pots and figurines bear an odd resemblance to types found in Asia 
Minor. Were such objects carried by ships along trade routes that 
had been carved out in remote prehistory? Perhaps. But it seems 
simpler to conclude that they arrived at their distant destinations 
after long overland journeys, passing from hand to hand in village 
after village. 




"BRINGING OF FORTY SHIPS filled with cedar logs." So wrote an 
ancient scribe in listing the accomplishments of Pharaoh Snefru, 
ruler of Egypt about 2650 B.C. This handful of words brings one 
across the threshold into the period of history proper- The dim 
tracks of potsherds and other like objects are still important 
giving them up is a luxury that the student of the history of ship- 
ping cannot afford at any stage in the ancient period but now 
there exists, for the first time, the strong light of written words to 
serve as a guide. 

As in the case of so many phases of civilization, the record begins 
in Egypt. Very little wood grows in the valley of the Nile. Cedar 
most certainly does not, and to get it Snefru had to look overseas. 
So he sent to Phoenicia where a famous stand grew on the moun- 
tain slopes of Lebanon. Snefru was blazing no trail, for Egypt had 
been in touch with this area even before his time. Archaeologists 
have found in the tombs of pharaohs and nobles of earlier dynas- 
ties jars and flasks and pitchers which were made in Palestine and 
Syria, and they have dug up in the latter countries objects that 
unquestionably came out of Egyptian workshops. Were these car- 


International Trade Begins 5 

ried overland or by boat? Before the time of Snefru there is no 
way of telling. But his words remove all doubt: some three thou- 
sand years before the birth of Christ a fleet of forty vessels slipped 
their moorings, sailed out of a Phoenician harbor, and shaped a 
course for Egypt to bring there a shipment of Lebanese cedar. It is 
the world's first articulate record of large-scale overseas commerce. 
On the coast, not far north of where Beirut stands today, was the 
port of Byblus whose beginnings go back beyond recorded memory. 
It was here that, among other things, the timber of Lebanon in 
Snefru's day and for centuries thereafter was brought to be loaded 
for shipment, and copper from the rich deposits in Cyprus was 
ferried in for transshipment. So constant was the trade between this 
city and Egypt that from earliest times seagoing merchantmen were 
called "Byblus-ships" whether they actually plied between there 
and Egypt or not, just as in the last century "China clippers" and 
"East Indiamen" were used on runs other than those they were 
named for. Hundreds of years later, when Egypt lost much of her 
power and could no longer maintain her overseas contacts, she 
felt the loss of this commerce keenly. "No one really sails north to 
Byblus," wailed one sage some four or five hundred years after 
Snefru's time. "What shall we do for cedar for our mummies, those 
trees with whose produce our priests were buried and with whose 
oil nobles were embalmed?" It wasn't only the Egyptian shipwrights 
and carpenters who needed Lebanese timber; the undertakers de- 
pended on it too. 

There was another important region which figured early in over- 
seas trade. East of the Mediterranean, and separated from it by 
mountains, lay Mesopotamia, the land watered by the two mighty 
rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. Here the ancient and highly de- 
veloped civilization of the Sumerians and the Babylonians arose. 
Cut off as they were, their Mediterranean contacts had to be 
through middlemen, probably the merchants of the coast, includ- 
ing, no doubt, those of Byblus. But, to the south, the twin rivers 
that formed their chief artery of communication emptied into the 
Persian Gulf, and beyond that lay the open expanse of the Indian 
Ocean. As early as the middle of the third millennium B.C., Baby- 




E G Y 


8 The Ancient Mariners 

Ionian merchants were either sailing these waters themselves or 
dealing directly with traders who were. 

The rulers of southern Mesopotamia in this age imported for 
their statues the handsome black stone known as diorite from a 
place they called Makkan, probably Oman on the Arabian shore 
of the gulf. Since Makkan had a reputation for shipbuilding, most 
likely its people provided the freighters and did the carrying. From 
the same area came timber and, most important of all, copper. By 
the end of the second millennium B.C., trade in the Persian Gulf 
was thoroughly organized on a businesslike basis. On the island 
known today as Bahrein, a full-fledged port of exchange had been 
created. Merchants from Mesopotamia sailed there carrying cargoes 
of textiles, wool, leather objects, and olive oil and returned with 
their holds laden first and foremost with copper ingots but also 
with finished objects of copper, precious stones, ivory, and rare 
woods. Bahrein itself is bare; everything shipped out of it had first 
to be brought there. The copper poses no problem: it came from 
nearby Makkan where the metal is still mined today. But the source 
of the ivory opens up interesting speculations. 

In the ruins of the cities of Mesopotamia of the third millennium 
B.C., archaeologists have dug up certain large conchs with a snow- 
white shell. These are examples of the sacred Indian chank which 
is found only in the coastal waters of India and Ceylon. They have 
discovered, too, some seals that could only have been made in 
India. The implication is clear: traders even in this early period 
ventured beyond the Persian Gulf and sailed the open waters of 
the ocean to the west coast of India; the raw ivory and the ivory 
objects that Mesopotamian merchants exchanged for their textiles 
and wool came from there. Often ancient cargo lists of the period 
include a mysterious entry that is literally translated "fish eyes." 
Can these be pearls from the famous banks off the Indian coast? 

A great many details are known about the businessmen of Meso- 
potamia, for they wrote their correspondence and kept their 
accounts on clay tablets which are just about indestructible; excava- 
tions have yielded hundreds of them. All Mesopotamian import- 
export transactions were in the hands of individuals, not the state. 
The chief problem of the merchants, as their records show, was the 
same that faces their modern counterparts: where and how to get 

International Trade Begins 9 

the capital to finance a voyage. Generally a group of partners went 
into a venture together. They borrowed from a banker the cash to 
buy a cargo and guaranteed to repay the loan at a fixed rate of 
interest. Except for the usual hazards of credit, the banker was com- 
pletely protected: if the vessel went down the partners shared the 
loss among themselves. But if she arrived safely they divided all the 
profits; the financier received only his original advance plus inter- 
est. Occasionally a less conservative banker took a flyer and had 
himself included as one of the partners in a venture, thereby sharing 
in the profits or the losses. The clay tablets have even produced 
what is probably the earliest letter extant from a dissatisfied cus- 
tomer, one that dates sometime between 2000 and 1750 B.C. Ea-nasir, 
a merchant of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, had delivered a con- 
signment of copper from Telmun, as Bahrein was then called. The 
consignee was outraged at the quality of the shipment. "Who am I 
that you treat me in this manner and offend me?" he writes. "That 
this could happen between gentlemen as we both are! Who is there 
among the traders of Telmun who has ever acted this way?" 

For some reason this amazingly far-flung and highly developed 
trade died out shortly after 1750 B.C. and did not come to life again 
until almost a thousand years later. One must go back to Egypt to 
continue the record of what was happening on the sea lanes. 

Egypt had need of imports for which she had to turn to countries 
other than Phoenicia. Every year enormous amounts of incense, 
myrrh and frankincense, were burned on her altars. These products 
were available only from South Arabia and the African coast below 
the Red Sea, an area which the pharaohs' scribes called Punt and 
which we know today as the Hadramaut and Somaliland. For 
centuries supplies had come overland, maintained by countless 
small traders who passed the merchandise along from hand to hand 
and, presumably, passed along an increase in price at each ex- 
change. The earliest pharaohs set themselves the job of cutting out 
these middlemen. In so doing they created one of the first great 
state-operated maritime enterprises. 

The task was not easy. The only alternative to the overland 
route was by water down the Red Sea. But Egypt's centers were all 
strung along the banks of her great river separated from the Red 


The Ancient Mariners 

Sea at the closest point by an eight-day march across desert. On a 
barren coast bare of shade and roasted by an ovenlike sun the 
pharaohs had to set up shipyards, build a fleet, lay out harbors with 
all necessary facilities and, when all was accomplished, maintain 
and protect what they had created. The easiest route from the Nile 
to the Red Sea was along a gorge in the desert called the Wadi 
Hammamat. On the rocks lining it at one point Henu, minister of 
Pharaoh Mentuhotep III, some two thousand years before the birth 
of Christ inscribed an account of his services to the state. In a few 
bald sentences he reveals graphically the difficulties that faced the 
founders of such a trading venture. "My lord sent me," he writes, 
"to despatch a ship to Punt to bring him back fresh myrrh. ... I 
left (the Nile) with an army of 3000 men. Every day I issued to 
each a leathern bottle, two jars of water, 20 loaves of bread. ... I 
dug 12 wells. . . . Then I reached the Red Sea, made the ship and 
despatched it." Henu was clearly a capable man. There was noth- 
ing haphazard about his methods: notice how each step was care- 
fully plotted, especially the key one of how to supply three 
thousand men with water during an eight-day desert trek. In his 
scrupulous attention to detail he even records the exact dimensions 
of the wells he dug. 

Not very long after Henu had accomplished his mission, some- 
time in the twentieth century B.C. Pharaoh Senusret took a step 
that rendered such an assignment from then on unnecessary: he 
dug a canal from the northern end of the Nile to the Red Sea. 
Cargoes that came through it were spared the wearying caravan 
trip and the time and effort lost in transshipping every item from 
ship to donkey to riverboat and vice versa. 

Yet even the opening of the canal did not make the Egypt-Punt 
trade a sinecure. There was still the long sail down the length of 
the Red Sea and back. That body of water was tricky to navigate, 
had few points where a ship in danger could take shelter, and was 
the spawning ground of a particularly virulent breed of brigand. 
(Pirates are a problem there to this very day.) It is no surprise that 
it furnishes the scene for the first report of shipwreck that has been 

The story is told in the first person. The narrator is a sort of 
Egyptian Sinbad, for his tale is at the same time the earliest sailor's 
yarn that we have; many centuries must pass before we meet a 

International Trade Begins 1 1 

sober eyewitness' account of shipwreck. "I had set out for the 
mines of the king/' the anonymous storyteller relates, "in a ship 
180 feet long and 60 wide; we had a crew of 120, the pick of Egypt." 
The mines must be those in the Sinai Peninsula, so the departure 
was made from some Red Sea port. The ship's size is imposing; it 
was no little coaster but a full-fledged cargo vessel. "A storm broke 
while we were still at sea," he continues; "we flew before the wind. 
The ship went down; of all in it only I survived. I was cast upon 
an island and spent three days alone; I stayed in the shade. Then I 
set forth to find what I could put in my mouth. I found figs and 
vines, all kinds of fine leeks, fruit and cucumbers. There were fish 
and fowl; everything was there. I satisfied myself and there was 
still some left over. When I had made a fire-drill I kindled a fire 
and made a burnt-offering for the gods." 

So far nothing that we couldn't find in the pages of Robinson 
Crusoe. But things suddenly change. "Then I heard the sound of 
thunder and thought it was a wave; trees broke and the earth 
quaked. I uncovered my face and found that a serpent had drawn 
near. It was 45 feet long and its beard was 2 feet long. Its body was 
covered with gold and its eyebrows were real lapis lazuli." 

The serpent's looks, it turns out, were deceiving; it was a most 
considerate and accommodating creature. It took the sailor up in 
its mouth tenderly, carried him to its lair, listened sympathetically 
to his story and then comforted him with the news that, after four 
comfortable months on the island, one of the pharaoh's ships would 
come along, pick him up, and carry him home. In gratitude the 
sailor burst out with a promise to bring it thank offerings of all 
sorts of incense. "Thereupon it laughed at me. And it said, 'I am 
the prince of Punt and myrrh that is my very own!' " As if to 
confirm these words, when the rescue ship as prophesied did come 
along, the serpent sent the sailor off with a full cargo of incense of 
every conceivable type. Two months later he was safely home. 

Near the famous valley across the river from Thebes where so 
many of the pharaohs dug their tombs, stands the huge temple of 
Deir-el-Bahari. It is a monument erected shortly after 1500 B.C. by 
Hatshepsut, the first great queen of history. On its walls she carved 
a record, with magnificent illustrations, of one of the great achieve- 
ments of her rule, a large-scale trading voyage to Punt. 

International Trade Begins 13 

Many years before Hatshepsut's reign Egypt had fallen upon 
difficulties. Civil war had split the country, and the fragments were 
ruled by upstart princelings or by invaders. None was in a position 
to maintain a project as sizable as the Red Sea fleet. Senusret's 
canal was abandoned and gradually silted up. The shipping of 
incense, as centuries before, was once again carried on overland 
through middlemen. But by 1570 B.C. a new dynasty arose which 
reunited the country, established a firm rule, and inaugurated an 
age that was to be Egypt's most celebrated. The fifth member of 
the line was Hatshepsut. Her contribution, as befits a woman, was 
an act of peace: she restored direct maritime connections with Punt. 

On one of the walls of the queen's tomb-temple, exquisitely 
carved in the low relief the Egyptians used so effectively, is a 
unique series of vignettes (Fig. i) . We see a fleet entering the har- 
bor at Punt: three sleek clean-lined vessels are still under way, 
their great sails bellying with wind, while two others have doused 
their canvas and are ready to tie up. Next is the disembarkation: 
an Egyptian royal messenger heads a file of men and offers a heap 
of familiar objects of barter necklaces, hatchets, daggers to the 
king of Punt who advances to meet him, followed by an enormously 
fat wife, two sons, and a daughter. Then ensues a scene of frenetic 
activity as a long line of Puntites brings the products of the coun- 
try to the tent of the royal messenger while another file carries 
jars and trees up gangplanks onto the vessels. Then comes the de- 
parture, the ships leaving the harbor under full sail, their decks 
piled high with cargo. Each scene has a caption to describe it down 
to the minutest details of action ("Hard to port!" calls the pilot of 
one of the ships as they maneuver; "Watch your step!" is carved 
over the stevedores in the loading scene) , and from them an almost 
complete list of the cargo can be compiled. It is imposing: various 
woods including ebony, myrrh-resin, live myrrh trees (dearly 
shown in the reliefs with their roots bagged in a ball as carefully 
as any gardener would want) , various other types of incense, ivory, 
gold, eye cosmetic, skins, 3,300 head of cattle, natives and their 
children. And some souvenirs: native spears, apes, monkeys, dogs, 
even "a southern panther alive, captured for Her Majesty." The 
inclusion of myrrh trees is suggestive. Were they merely to decor- 
ate the royal gardens or did Hatshepsut have the shrewd notion of 

14 The Ancient Mariners 

cultivating them in Egypt to reduce her country's dependence on 
a foreign source of supply? 

The vessels shown on Hatshepsut's reliefs represent the high- 
water mark of the Egyptian shipbuilder. Yet, though they are 
fine-looking ships, their design had serious weaknesses and for 
good reasons was not to play an important role in the history of 
naval architecture. 

In Egypt, stretched like a ribbon along the banks of a river which 
offered a clear course of over four hundred miles, it was natural 
that the designing and sailing of boats would begin early and de- 
velop rapidly. The Nile offered the best and easiest form of trans- 
port. It was even blessed with a prevailing wind that blew from 
the north: one could sail upstream and drift downstream or row 
without strain, if in a hurry. The tombs of Egypt have yielded pic- 
tures and even models of a bewildering variety of river craft, from 
tiny rowboats through swift yachts and dispatch boats to enormous 
barges that were built to carry huge obelisks, weighing hundreds of 
tons, from the granite quarries far upstream. Life on the ancient 
Nile must have been every bit as varied and picturesque as on 
Mark Twain's Mississippi. And as designers of river craft the Egyp- 
tians were unsurpassed. This was their weakness: when they turned 
to seagoing ships they simply constructed oversize Nile boats. 

In almost all times and places people have, in building ships, 
used a framework of keel and ribs. The keel was the spine; the 
ribs curved upward and outward from it, and to them was made 
fast the skin of planks. In this way strength and rigidity were im- 
parted. Not so the Egyptians. Building for use on a river where 
there were no storms, no violent winds, battering waves, or ripping 
currents, they constructed their vessels, even the largest ones, with- 
out keel and with few, very light ribs. Planks were pinned to one 
another rather than to a skeleton. The only stiffening provided be- 
yond the handful of ribs consisted of beams run from gunwale to 
gunwale on which the deck was laid. This was adequate for a river. 
A good deal more was needed for a ship that was to sail the open 

About 2550 B.C. Pharaoh Sahure built a fleet of transports to 
ferry his troops to some Asiatic coast. To commemorate the achieve- 

International Trade Begins 15 

ment he ordered his artists to carve a picture of the scene on the 
walls of his pyramid and thereby left the earliest clear picture of 
seagoing ships extant (PL sa) . So carefully did the artists execute 
their assignment that almost every detail of construction appears; 
we can see precisely what the Egyptian naval architect did to adapt 
for use on the sea a boat basically built for a river. Around one end 
of the vessel he looped an enormous hawser, carried it along the 
centerline above the deck, and looped it about the other end. By 
placing a stout pole through the strands of the hawser where it 
passed over the deck, and twisting, one could tighten the whole 
harness like a tourniquet. This was his substitute for keel and ribs; 
twisted until it had the proper tension, the hawser held the ends 
from breaking off when the vessel was forced to batter her way 
through heavy seas. The architect further added an elaborate net- 
ting that ran horizontally about the upper part of the hull. Is this, 
too, an aid in holding the ship together, a sort of girdle as it were, 
or is it mere chafing gear to protect the sides from rubbing? The 
architect could not use the ordinary single mast, for there was no 
keel in which to sink its end securely (the heel of a mast exerts 
tremendous leverage against its socket) ; so he designed a two- 
legged affair which distributed the pressure, and he stayed it care- 
fully with lines fore and aft. On it a tall slender squaresail was 
mounted, in a fashion peculiar to Egypt: two yards spread it, the 
usual one along the head and another along the foot. But the ship 
was not solely a sailing vessel; when there was no wind or when 
it was foul, sail was taken in, the mast was lowered and rowers sent 
her on her way. The Egyptian artists in their scrupulous attention 
to detail have added a homely touch that permits us to figure out 
what kind of stroke the rowers used. Oarsmen are always pictured 
with a special type of loincloth, one made of a netted material with 
a square patch of solid leather on the seat. This obviously was 
chafing gear: the rower must have handled his oar the way they did 
in the Middle Ages, rising to his feet at each stroke and throwing 
himself on the seat with the pull: without a sturdy patch on his 
rear, he would have rubbed through his loincloth in short order. 
We cannot tell how large Sahure's ships were, but the story of the 
shipwrecked sailor shows that seagoing vessels could reach 180 feet 
in length and 60 in beam* 

i6 The Ancient Mariners 

A thousand years later naval architects were designing the ships 
shown on Hatshepsut's reliefs (PL 2b; Fig. i) . They are cleaner 
and faster than Sahure's. Their lines have the graceful curves of a 
racing yacht. The sail has given way to one much larger but no 
longer tall, enormously broad instead; it was still spread in the 
old manner by a yard along the foot as well as along the head. It 
was so wide that the yards were made of two tapering spars, with 
their ends fished together, instead of one; this not only gave greater 
strength but was easier to construct, since a pair of saplings fas- 
tened together at their thick ends did the trick. The broad sail has 
permitted the use of a much shorter mast, one that consequently 
exerts less leverage, and the architect has accordingly given up the 
old two-legged arrangement for a single pole. But except for these, 
improvements rather than radical changes in design, almost every- 
thing else is as before. The keel-less vessel with its handful of light 
ribs must still be held together by a heavy hawser looped about the 
ends and twisted to the proper tension. These boats were beautiful; 
unquestionably they were fast; but they sadly lacked sturdiness. 
We shall not see them outside Egypt. 

The peak of Egyptian expansion was reached in the reign of 
Hatshepsut's successor, Thutmose III, perhaps the greatest of the 
pharaohs. It was he who extended Egypt's arm over Palestine and 
Syria and Phoenicia and even beyond to the countries inland, and 
earned out his conquest and organization of the areas so thor- 
oughly that his successors were able to coast for centuries on what 
he had accomplished. For the next three hundred years, until about 
1200 B.C., Egypt's trade flourished as never before. Vessels from the 
Levant dumped on her quays everything from ponderous timbers 
to the finest and most delicate objects of Asiatic craftsmanship. 
The pharaohs and their courts rode in chariots that had been made 
in Syria, raised cattle that came from Asia Minor, ate delicacies 
that were grown on the island of Cyprus, and were served by swarms 
of Asiatic and Semitic slaves. Their wives dressed in gorgeous stuffs 
from Syria and scented themselves with the perfumes of South 
Arabia. Punt provided, as always, its stores of incense, ivory, and 
rare woods. Copper was brought from Cyprus and silver from Asia 
Minor. In return Egypt sent out gold that was mined in Nubia, 

International Trade Begins 17 

papyrus made into sheets for writing paper or twisted into cordage, 
linen textiles, and the fine products of her workshops beads, 
faience, scarabs, figurines. A king of Cyprus, who had supplied the 
pharaoh with copper and timber, writes to ask for horses, chariots, 
a bed of rare wood all gold-plated, women's dresses, jars of oil of 
fine quality. In another letter he requests an Egyptian specialty 
which may not have been as unusual as it sounds a sorcerer; this 
one had to be an expert with eagles. The tempo of trade was such 
that merchants from overseas established residences in Egypt. In the 
great city of Memphis a foreign quarter sprang up complete, as 
such places always are, with temples to the strangers' gods. 

A picture can at times tell more than a bookful of words, and 
by great good fortune there is one available to illustrate the com- 
merce of this period. The business executive of today orders a 
photograph of his plant in action and hangs it in his office; the 
ancient Egyptian functionary commissioned a picture of himself 
in official action and had it painted on a wall of his tomb. Kena- 
mon was an official under Pharaoh Amenhotep III, in charge of, 
among other things, commerce with the Levant. So he had painted 
on one side of his tomb a picture, complete to the last homely de- 
tail, of a typical moment in an Egyptian harbor fourteen centuries 
before the birth of Christ (Fig. 2) . 

A fleet of ships has just arrived. You can tell where they are 
from by the dress and looks of the skippers and the mates who 
wear gaily embroidered ankle-length robes and have full beards 
and prominent hooked profiles. They are unquestionably Semites; 
the vessels consequently must be from Syria or Phoenicia, perhaps 
even from Byblus itself. Are the ships, too, foreign or Egyptian? 
With their gracefully curved bow and stern and prominent over- 
hang fore and aft they seem very like Hatshepsut's vessels. Yet they 
lack the telltale looped hawser. Perhaps it is the artist's fault: as an 
Egyptian he may have unconsciously grafted a native look on to 
vessels that were really Phoenician or Syrian. He's a bit lubberly at 
best; no vessel could ride so high out of the water as his ships do. 
A number of them are already made fast, their sails furled, the 
boarding ladders lowered from their prows to the shore. Harbors 
were rough-and-ready affairs in those days; since there were no 
wharves ships were simply run up on the beach. Other vessels are 

i8 The Ancient Mariners 

shown making ready to land. Sailors have sprung aloft to take in 
canvas, and on one the skipper stands in the bow carefully taking 
soundings as the ship inches in toward the beach. On shore every- 
thing is bustling the way one expects when a fleet comes in. An Egyp- 
tian customs official, standing before an officer and file of men from 
one of the ships, is entering information about them on a tablet. One 
Egyptian tradesman is busy trying to sell his wares; he points with 
emphasis to his scale to assure prospective customers that it is 
accurate. Another is actually transacting a piece of business with 
one of the ships' officers. The latter is trying to sell a large jar, prob- 
ably of wine or oil, for no good grade of either was ever produced 
in Egypt; behind him a file of hands from the vessel unloads more 
of them. A tradeslady appears to be feeling the heat; instead of 
hawking her wares she sits under slippers and other articles of 
clothing she has for sale and lazily fans the flies away. In the upper 
right-hand corner of the panel a ship's officer leads two women and 
a child before an Egyptian official. Are they slaves? Note the dia- 
phanous, triple-tiered dress that one of the women wears; we shall 
have occasion to refer to it later (p. 22). In the lower right-hand 
corner is the procession before Kenamon himself: men from the 
ships stolidly file before him with wares of all sorts, while their 
officers grovel in the dirt before the great man. 

Active as Egypt's trade was, it had strict limits. Her lightly 
built ships raced south to Punt and north to the Levant but very 
likely not much farther. Many of the products the Egyptians im- 
ported and exported were carried in foreign bottoms, like those in 
Kenamon's picture. The distinction of being the first great traders 
of the Mediterranean goes to another people, a race of born sea 
sailors rather than rivermen. 

Some decades before Kenamon sat in his office supervising ship- 
ments from the Levant, a noble named Rekhmire, vizier of Egypt 
and second in importance only to the pharaoh, ordered an opulent 
tomb to be prepared for himself. On its walls he commanded the 
artists to paint pictures showing all the world paying tribute to his 
master, the great Thutmose III. As in Kenamon's picture, there 
appear Semites from Phoenicia and Syria. There are men from the 
south, Negroes from the Sudan and people from Punt. Alongside 




M t 





go The Ancient Mariners 

these by now familiar faces suddenly appear others who are com- 
pletely new. They wear unusually decorated kilts and queer san- 
dals, and do their hair in a strange fashion. The bowls and other 
vessels they carry have unfamiliar shapes. "The People of the Isles 
in the midst of the Sea," the caption calls them. It has been one of 
archaeology's prime achievements to identify these figures. 

"Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a 
navy. He made himself master of a great part of what is now 
termed the Hellenic Sea; he conquered the isles of the Aegean and 
was the first colonizer of most of them." So wrote Thucydides, one 
of the most sober and scientific historians who ever existed, in the 
fifth century B.C., some thousand years after the times of Thutmose 
and Rekhmire. As late as the nineteenth century, the statement 
seemed hard to believe: Minos, as far as anyone knew, was a 
figment of mythology, not a character in history. All that was re- 
ported of him seemed pure fancy: that he ruled the island of Crete, 
that he had built there a trackless maze called the "labyrinth" and 
kept in it the Minotaur, "Minos' bull," a mythical creature with 
the body of a man and the head of a bull; that he had the grisly 
habit of feeding it live mortals and for this purpose yearly levied 
seven young men and seven young women from Athens; and that 
Theseus, the legendary hero of that city, volunteered to be sent out, 
and with the help of Minos' own daughter, who had fallen in love 
with him at sight, slew the monster and escaped safely. 

In 1900 a British archaeologist named Arthur Evans began to dig 
at Cnossos a few miles inland from Heracleion, the chief city on 
the north shore of Crete. His results were spectacular. Within a 
few months he had begun to uncover the remains of a mighty civi- 
lization whose existence had hardly been suspected. He laid bare the 
foundations of an enormous palace, one that had so complex an 
arrangement of rooms and corridors that in truth it resembled a 
veritable labyrinth. Everywhere he found the bull's head used as a 
sacred symbol. He found, too, a symbol in the form of a double-ax 
and he remembered that Plutarch had once written that there was 
a non-Greek word labrys which meant "ax." In the ruins were 
thousands of fragments of pottery decorated gaily in a unique style. 
On the walls were murals done in a charming naturalistic manner. 
He even uncovered clay tablets with two distinct forms of writing. 

International Trade Begins 21 

Here, then, was a people with a fully developed civilization, their 
own art, architecture, and literature. What they called themselves 
Evans had no idea, for their writing was indecipherable. But the 
clues that connected them with the heretofore mythical Minos and 
his labyrinth and Minotaur were incontrovertible. So he dubbed 
them the "Minoans" and so they have been called ever since. 

As excavation proceeded and more came to be known of these 
people, two features in particular came to the fore: first, that their 
pottery, so easily identified by its unique decoration, was to be 
found in many lands lying overseas, while foreign objects in abun- 
dance were scattered through the ruins of their cities; second, that 
their cities were completely unwalled. The conclusion was inescap- 
able. Thucydides knew what he was talking about: the people of 
Crete, in an age remote even when he was writing, had been daring 
and active traders and the possessors of a great navy; Minoan towns 
needed no stone walls, for wooden ones, their ships, protected the 

As far back as the days of Snefru and Sahure there was trade con- 
tact between Minoans and Egyptians. In the ruins of Crete archae- 
ologists discovered stone bowls which seem like types made in Egypt 
as early as 2700 B.C. Some seven hundred years later, when Pharaoh 
Amenemhet II was selecting treasures to be placed in his tomb he 
included a group of silver bowls of a kind made in Crete. Did 
Minoan ships bring these objects directly to Egypt or did they carry 
them to the nearer coasts of Phoenicia or Syria and did they then 
make their way to the Nile as part of the trade Egypt carried on at 
all times with the Levant? There is no certain answer. Some of 
them may have, but not necessarily all. The sailors of Crete traveled 
to far more distant places; the direct voyage to Egypt could have 
held no terrors for them. 

Minoan traders have left a trail of their pottery in Palestine and 
Syria and Asia Minor in the east. They reached north as far as 
Macedonia. Southward they knew other parts of Africa besides 
Egypt. One of the signs found among their carvings is a representa- 
tion of a plant, highly prized in ancient days as a medicine and 
spice, that grew only in one particular spot on the coast of Libya. A 
tiny seal found in their ruins has a picture of a kneeling camel, an- 
other that of an ostrich. In the west they pushed as far as Sardinia, 

22 The Ancient Mariners 

for ingots of copper stamped with the telltale double-ax have been 
found there. Sicily they knew very well. Objects made of liparite, a 
rare form of stone originating only in the islets off Sicily, have been 
found on Crete. Legend had it that Minos himself died on Sicily, 
and one of the Sicilian towns of later historic times was named 

Some hold that they made their way farther west still, to the 
coasts of Spain. Bronze began to be used in the Mediterranean 
about 3000 B.C. Copper had always been available nearby; there 
were large deposits in Cyprus and Asia Minor. But the new alloy 
required tin, and that is a metal in short supply in the eastern 
Mediterranean. There were, however, rich deposits in Spain. Was 
it carried in Minoan bottoms from there? Possibly, but only pos- 
sibly. More likely it was quarried nearer home in the meager de- 
posits so far located and in others not yet discovered. 

The picture of what the objects of Minoan trade were is lopsided 
because the evidence is limited almost entirely to the sort of things 
the archaeologist can dig up. Yet enough has been found to show 
that the outside world clamored for the products of Cretan work- 
shops. Among the highly civilized nobles of Egypt and Phoenicia 
and the semibarbaric chieftains of Greece alike, there were those 
who preferred to eat off dishes decorated in the Minoan fashion, 
carry Minoan-style weapons in battle, and wear Minoan jewels 
and garments of Minoan textiles in court. The women of Crete 
wore a tight bodice and bell-shaped skirt made up in a number of 
tiers; in an Egyptian tomb painting a Semitic princess appears 
wearing precisely such a skirt, and it reappears on one of the 
women in the harbor scene of Kenamon's tomb (Fig. 2) . In return, 
the Minoans imported a good many things: gold, beads, faience, 
figurines, and probably papyrus, from Egypt; copper from Cyprus; 
ivory from Syria; from Greece blocks of porphyry. Amber, follow- 
ing prehistoric routes across Europe from the Baltic, made its way 
to their workshops. 

From about 1800 to 1500 B.C. was the heyday of the Minoans' 
trade, when they exported to, and possibly even kept up trading 
stations in, Sicily, Greece, Rhodes, Cyprus, and the Levant. It was 
in this period that their commercial and political leaders built the 

International Trade Begins 23 

magnificent dwelling places, furnished in opulent and beautiful 
style, which the archaeologists' spades have uncovered. 

The inhabitants of Minoan Crete were, then, the first great sea 
power of the Mediterranean, the first to explore in a fruitful way 
that great sea and to lay out trade lines that were destined to last 
for millennia. They were even the first at least so far as we know 
to depict the sea monsters that their sailors, like seamen every- 
where, yarned about (PL id) . Must they not, therefore, be the 
"People of the Isles" on the wall of Rekhmire's tomb? The figures 
there wear their hair in the same manner as the men that appear 
in Cretan murals and they carry vases shaped and decorated like 
those found in Minoan sites. Can we not conclude without further 
ado that these "People of the Isles" come from Crete? The problem 
is not quite that easily solved. 

No more than a day's sail from Minos' palace in Crete lies the 
southern portion of the peninsula of Greece. Early in their history 
Cretan traders had made their way here. The effect of their arrival 
was startling. The local inhabitants gobbled up Minoan civiliza- 
tion as avidly as Japan in the nineteenth century did that of the 
Occident. Their whole lives were transformed. They decorated the 
walls of their houses, their pots and dishware in the Minoan man- 
ner. They fashioned the same sort of seals and jewelry, wore the 
same sort of armor, dressed in the Minoan style. The women did 
their hair a la minoenne and looked to Crete for their fashions the 
way we do to Paris and Rome. Much of what was native disap- 
peared under an overlay of culture from Crete. The phenomenon 
was so striking that some scholars, viewing it, theorized that Crete 
had physically conquered the mainland of Greece and ruled it as a 

But they had the facts somewhat twisted. A brilliant stroke of 
scholarship identified beyond doubt the people inhabiting Greece 
at this period and straightened out the historical incidents of 
this remote age. On the island of Crete tablets inscribed in two 
types of writing had been found. One of the two types reappeared 
on the mainland. In 1953 a British architect named Michael Ventris, 
who had as a hobby played about with these inscrutable documents, 
using pure cryptographic methods capped twenty years of work by 
breaking the script. They were written, he determined, in Greek. 

24 The Ancient Mariners 

In a flash the picture became clear: the Cretans had carried their 
civilization to the mainland Greeks and, not long after 1500 B.C., 
the latter had repaid them with conquest. That was why in the 
palace ruins on Crete, along with the tablets still undeciphered 
written in the native Minoan language, excavators found writings 
in Greek of the new masters. 

With this act these early Greeks established themselves as the 
complete heirs of the Minoans' maritime empire. They held Crete 
with its fine location at the heart of the trade routes. They set up 
their own overseas colonies: near Syracuse in Sicily and Tarentum 
in Italy, on Rhodes, on Cyprus, along the Phoenician coast. Their 
cities in the homeland grew rich, especially Mycenae where in later 
days Homer's King Agamemnon ruled; this was the first of their 
centers to be excavated and as a result scholars refer to the Greeks 
of this time as Mycenaeans and the period as the Mycenaean Age. 
From almost the middle of the second millennium B.C. to its end 
they were the trading nation par excellence of the Mediterranean. 
"The People of the Isles" of Rekhmire's tomb and of other Egyp- 
tian paintings may have been Minoans from Crete, but it is just 
as likely the frescoes all date in the fifteenth century B.C. that 
they were Mycenaeans. So many of their objects have been found 
in the ruins at Tell el-Amarna, a city built from scratch about 
1370 B.C. by Pharaoh Ikhnaton as his capital, that it is even possible 
he maintained there a colony of Greek workmen. 

A trail of pottery fragments dug up by archaeologists marks the 
routes these traders followed. Their ships worked eastward to the 
west coast of Asia Minor, or southward to Crete from where they 
cut east by way of Rhodes and Cyprus to the cities along the 
Syrian coast. Here most unloaded and, letting the Phoenicians 
transship whatever was consigned to Egypt, picked up return car- 
goes that included whatever the Phoenicians had brought back 
from there. All papyrus, for example, was manufactured in Egypt, 
but so much of it came to Greece by way of the Syrian coast that 
the standard Greek word for the product was by bios, reflecting the 
name of the harbor at which most Greek traders must have taken 
on their cargoes of it. When traveling westward, the Mycenaeans 
probably sailed to Crete to pick up consignments of Minoan prod- 
ucts, then up the west shore of Greece and across the Adriatic to 

International Trade Begins 25 

Sicily. The most crowded ports of all, though, must have been those 
on the Syrian coast. Here ships from all quarters of the Mediter- 
ranean put in: the Phoenician merchant marine shared the quays 
with vessels from Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, and Greece. The harborside 
of Sidon or Byblus must have presented a scene every bit as poly- 
glot and bizarre as that of Singapore or Alexandria or any of the 
modern international entrepots. In the ruins of Ugarit, a city lo- 
cated just east of Cyprus and whose beginnings antedate written 
history, archaeologists have discovered the foreign quarter. From 
about 1800 on, a Cretan colony lived there, as one would expect. 
About 1400 it was shouldered out by Mycenaean Greeks. In the 
ruins of the town a foundry was uncovered, no doubt used to 
process the copper ore which these traders brought in quantity 
from Cyprus. 

Only the Phoenicians have left any real record of what their mer- 
chantmen looked like in this age. The ships manned by Phoenician 
sailors which were drawn on the walls of Kenamon's tomb were 
deep-bellied freighters with curved ends terminating in short 
straight stems and sternposts (Fig. 2) . Flush decks not only covered 
over their ample holds but, girt with high railings, permitted them 
to carry a liberal deck load. They were driven by broad squaresails 
which in shape and rig greatly resemble the Egyptian type and may 
have been modeled on it. As on Hatshepsut's vessels, the sail is 
bent to two yards, one along the foot as well as on top, and there 
is a web of lines running through the upper part of the mast to 
raise and hold these spars. But a clay model that was dug up at 
Byblus shows a different type of merchantman, an undecked affair 
with sides built up so high that the vessel has something of the 
appearance of an elongated bowl. It no doubt carried a good deal 
of cargo, but it also ran the risk of swamping if it got caught in 
heavy weather and took green water over the side. Probably it 
was used only for short coastal hauls. 

The Minoans liked to engrave pictures of their ships on seals, 
and archaeologists have dug up a number of them in the ruins on 
Crete (PI. ic, e) . But the drawings are so small and sketchy that 
they tell very little. The hulls seem rounded and roomy, and the 
number of lines that the artists drew running from gunwales to 

s?6 The Ancient Mariners 

mast reveals that they carried large-enough sails to need consider- 
able staying. It is disappointing not to know more about the vessels 
with which this early race of mariners achieved so much. Even less 
is known of those of their successors: not one representation of 
Greek merchantmen of this age has survived. 

The lords of Mycenae, like their Minoan predecessors, were rich 
and powerful men. They were able to build for themselves grand 
palaces to live in and sumptuous tombs to be laid away in. In them 
excavators have found the fabulously rich trappings of their daily 
life. They fought in beautifully wrought armor, drove in hand- 
some chariots, wore rich clothes, and dressed their wives in style. 
They ate off magnificent dinnerware and drank from superbly 
decorated golden goblets. The age was a great one, great enough 
to linger in men's memories long after it had come to an end, for 
it was of the last part of it that Homer sang. But Homer is a poet 
of warriors, not traders, and his heroes, the soldiers of the sea, 
deserve their own chapter. 

3 War 

on the Sea 

FROM THOSE EARLIEST DAYS when Egyptian merchantmen first sailed 
down the Red Sea and traders from Crete and Byblus made their 
maiden voyages in the eastern Mediterranean, the freighter had to 
share the seas with the man-of-war. 

When the warship made its debut in history it was not the 
stripped-down platform for mounting attacks against an enemy 
ship that it is today. It was far more prosaic. The first vessels used 
in warfare were merely an adjunct of the army, transports to ferry 
troops. There may have been no distinction between ships of the 
naval arm and freighters at the outset: the general who conceived 
the idea of water-borne transport almost certainly carried it out by 
commandeering available merchantmen. 

The idea was thought of at least as early as about 3550 B.C. Egyp- 
tian records reveal that at this time Pharaoh Sahure used a fleet 
of transports to ferry an army to some Asiatic shore (p. 14; PL 2a). 
A century and a half later, Uni, Pharaoh Pepi's great commander, 
rushed troops by boat to quell a rebellion, probably along the 
Palestinian coast. But the master of the technique of transporting 
soldiers overseas was Pharaoh Thutmose III (1490-1436) , Egypt's 

28 The Ancient Mariners 

outstanding figure in so many of the arts of war. The great general 
fought eighteen campaigns in Syria and, from at least the sixth on, 
moved his troops there by water. His first step was to secure un- 
disputed control of the harbors along the Phoenician coast. He 
then placed them in charge of vassal Lebanese princelings who had 
strict orders to keep these all-important facilities in top-notch order 
and fully provisioned. Each year he made a personal tour of inspec- 
tion to make sure his instructions were carried out to the letter. 
The details of this enormous project are all lost. From a scanty 
allusive line such as "Every port town of His Majesty was supplied 
with every good thing . . . with ships of cedar loaded with columns 
and beams as well as large timbers," we must imagine the ring of 
hammers and adzes, the grunting of oxen, the shouts of carpenter 
and rigger, and the other varied sounds of a shipyard as quays, 
warehouses, repair shops, and the hundred and one other require- 
ments of a naval base were set up. Thutmose carried it all out so 
rapidly and successfully that his military victories may have come 
about more from the quickness and ease with which he got his 
soldiers to the theater of combat than from their prowess. 

But the troop transport was not the only type of man-of-war to 
sail the seas in earliest times. There were also the ships of the 
sea rover, slim clean-lined vessels, always driven by oars as well as 
by sail, and built first and foremost for speed and maneuverability. 
These actually doubled as both vessels of war and of peace. An 
attack on an unarmed merchantman or a lightning raid on an 
undefended coast town could be followed by a voyage of explora- 
tion or a rapid run to deliver dispatches when there was not time 
enough to wait on the vagaries of the winds. The sea rover's ship 
may be every bit as old as the merchantman; Cretan explorers 
surely used them in their pioneering voyages of discovery. Yet, 
curiously enough, it was relatively late when they made their bow 
on the stage of history, not until the beginning of the fourteenth 
century B.C. 

About 1375 B.C. Ikhnaton sat upon the throne of Egypt, a young 
man who devoted himself to revolutionizing the religious life of 
Egypt as intently as his great ancestor had to building up naval 
bases and extending his military conquests. To break clean with 
the past, the youthful zealot abandoned the old governmental 

War on the Sea 29 

center at Thebes with its traditional associations and built himself 
a completely new capital on a vast plain farther down the Nile. 
When, after his death, Egypt reverted to her old ways, his once 
great city fell into ruins and was forgotten. And so it happened that 
in 1887, some three thousand years later, a peasant woman, search- 
ing for dust to fertilize her garden, came upon what turned out to 
be part of the official archives of Ikhnaton's Foreign Office, over 
three thousand clay tablets containing letters that passed between 
the pharaoh (1380-1362 B.C.) or his predecessor (1413-1377 B.C.) 
and various rulers of the Near East. 

The Tell el-Amarna letters, as they have come to be known from 
the modern name of their place of discovery, are almost unique in 
ancient history. Here for once we have before us not some carefully 
edited records left by a king with an anxious eye cocked on pos- 
terity or some second- or thirdhand report by a historian writing 
years or centuries later, but original documents, the raw material 
of history comparable, say, to the stenographic record of the Yalta 
or Potsdam conference. 

A large portion consists of letters written by the rulers in those 
very Phoenician coastal cities that Thutmose III had molded into 
dependable naval bases. Times are very different now. A religious 
reformer and not a general sits on the throne of Egypt, and his 
correspondence is a graphic record of how these cities, once ruled 
so firmly by the pharaoh, are one by one being picked off by ene- 
mies. In this drama Egypt is but the tragic victim; the villain of 
the piece is the sea rover. As letter succeeds letter, he enters the 
scene and gradually takes over the lead. Here in these early records 
sea rovers, formed in fleets, play most of the roles that navies were 
destined to play from this time on: grouping to enforce a blockade, 
preying upon maritime commerce, disrupting sea-borne communi- 

The chief victim was none other than Byblus, that city whose 
contacts with Egypt in this age were already over a millennium 
and a half old. Rib-Addi, a local princeling ruled it and Simyra, its 
neighbor to the north. "Send me soldiers and provisions!" was the 
refrain of his earliest letters to the pharaoh, repeated as the years 
went by with mounting urgency. But then there came a time when 
the dispatching of mere men and food was insufficient: the enemy 

go The Ancient Mariners 

had massed a fleet, put it into action, and sea power was exercising 
its inexorable influence on Rib-Addi. He had foreseen the danger. 
The ships were being mobilized from the famous old Phoenician 
ports of Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon. "Put one of your men in each of 
these cities/' he urged Ikhnaton, "and prevent them from using 
their ships against me!" His plea had as little effect as his earlier 
ones for military reinforcements, and the inevitable results swiftly 
became apparent. "[The enemy] has placed ships ... so that grain 
cannot be brought into Simyra. We can't enter Simyra," another 
letter reports. And Rib-Addi sums the situation up with a graphic 
simile, "As a bird that lies in a net, so is Simyra. The sons of Abdi- 
Ashirta by land and the people of Arvad by sea are against it day 
and night." The blockade was complete and Simyra fell. The 
enemy's forces on the water kept increasing. He grew bolder, and no 
longer limited himself to blockade alone but took aggressive action. 
"Two of my ships have been taken," Rib-Addi wrote in desperation 
on one occasion and, on another, "[The enemy] has seized one of my 
ships and has actually sailed forth on the sea to capture my other 
ships." The contact by water between Byblus and Egypt was being 

But Rid-Addi wasn't the only one to suffer. Sea raiders were 
loose all over the high seas. "Ships from the Milim-people," he re- 
ported in a worried tone to the pharaoh, "penetrated into the 
Amurri [north Syria] and killed Abdi-Ashirta [the local ruler]." We 
don't know who the Milim-people were specifically, but it is clear 
from Rib-Addi's lines that they were a dangerously successful group 
of hit-and-run sea raiders. But Ikhnaton soon did not need reports 
of such activity; he felt the effects of it himself. Raiders from 
Lycia in southern Asia Minor, a region destined to achieve a great 
reputation in the grim history of piracy (pp. 201-5), were bold 
enough to swoop down on the very shores of Egypt. The pharaoh 
wrote to the king of Cyprus accusing him of collusion, and the 
latter rushed back an exasperated retort to the effect that, far 
from aiding the Lycians, he and his island had been suffering their 
incursions yearly. 

The warship, in a word, had come of age. Powerful naval units, 
massed in north Syria, could blockade nearby ports until they fell, 
disrupt Byblus' communications with Egypt, and prey on the com- 

War on the Sea 31 

merce between the two. Groups of raiders could sack cities on the 
Phoenician coast, attack the shores of Cyprus, and even harry 
Egypt. The influence of sea power was making itself felt on history. 

Things had not been thus a century before when Thutmose 
calmly shuttled his troops between Egypt and Phoenicia, and when 
Rekhmire, his vizier, filled his ledgers with lists of items brought 
overseas from Cyprus, Asia Minor, Crete, and Greece. Something 
existed then which was able to maintain peace on the seas and 
which now, at the opening of the fourteenth century B.C., was gone. 
It was not the Egyptian navy: their oversize riverboats were never 
intended for work on the high seas. It could only have been the 
fleets of Minos and his successors. Crete's bold program of overseas 
exploration and colonization, its far-flung trade and, in particular, 
its unwalled cities all presuppose the existence of a great fleet. 
"Minos is the first to whom tradition ascribes the possession of a 
navy," Thucydides wrote, and there can be little doubt that he 
had good reason for saying so. It was a navy that successfully 
policed the Mediterranean for centuries. 

One of the most significant sea battles of the ancient world must 
have been that in which the Mycenaeans, pupils of Crete in naval 
warfare as in so many other things, sometime before 1450 B.C. 
crushed the Cretan fleet and poured over the island to establish 
their rule there. But it has missed the pages of history altogether; 
it can only be deduced from archaeological remains. With this vic- 
tory the Greeks established themselves as the complete heirs of 
Minoan civilization: they took over its homeland, its trading posts, 
and its commerce. But, as the Tell el-Amarna letters show so graph- 
ically, one thing they did not turn to was the task of policing the 
seas. As a matter of fact, the new lords of the sea were eventually 
to become the most renowned sea raiders of all. 

"Lo, the northern countries, which are in their isles, are restless 
in their limbs; they infest the ways of the harbor-mouths." So wrote 
the scribe of Ramses III as he prepared to recount a great victory 
of his king in 1190 B.C. Almost three centuries had passed since the 
Minoan fleet fell before the onslaught of Mycenaean forces and 
over a century and a half since raiders began to disrupt commerce 
along the Phoenician coast. The age of flourishing overseas traffic 

g 2 The Ancient Mariners 

was coming to an end, and the age of the sea raiders was beginning. 
The Mediterranean was infested with bands of rovers, not only 
Lycians and other peoples from the coasts of Asia Minor but also 
people from "the northern countries which are in their isles." 
They joined the Libyans in a savage attack on Egypt from the west 
in 1221 B.C. and again in 1194 and were somehow repelled both 
times. Four years later some re-formed to attack again, by land and 
sea, from Syria and Palestine. In a great naval engagement, one 
which stands as the first described and pictured in history, Ramses 
III threw them back into the sea. 

"No land could stand before their arms," Ramses has his scribe 
write. "They set up a camp in one place in Syria. . . . They came 
with fire prepared before them, forward to Egypt. Their confedera- 
tion was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Demyen and Weshesh." Of 
these names and others, rendered so vaguely by the Egyptian 
scribes, only one can be identified with certainty the Peleset are 
none other than the Philistines. Further Egyptian accounts record 
still others which suggest tantalizing identifications. Are the Tursha 
Tyrrhenians or Etruscans, in this age still an Asia Minor people 
not yet having migrated to their historical abode in central Italy? 
Are the Akaiwasha Achaeans, Homer's name for the Greeks? 

What faced Ramses was no mere hit-and-run raid such as Egypt 
had been putting up with since the days of Ikhnaton. These 
"Northerners of the Isles" had consolidated their forces in North 
Syria, had sacked the great seaports of the Phoenician coast, and 
were sweeping down like a flood upon Egypt. It was a veritable 
migration. And, as the main body moved forward by land, the fleet 
kept pace along the coast. 

Ramses' victory was complete. To celebrate it he erected a great 
temple near Thebes, and it was on its walls that his scribes wrote 
the story of his conquest and his artists portrayed, in carefully 
carved reliefs, its highlights. The encounter on land took place 
first, and the sculptures depict the pharaoh's troops smiting the 
northern invaders hip and thigh and breaking through the ranks 
of soldiers to get to the heavy two-wheeled oxcarts which carried 
the wives, children, and supplies. Once the land was secured Ramses 
turned to the enemy fleet. Somehow or other he managed to box it 
in a corner. As he puts it: "The net was made ready for them, to 

War on the Sea 33 

ensnare them. Entering stealthily into the harbor mouth, they fell 
into it." The picture illustrating this part of the action is unique 
(Fig. 3) . It is the first and only representation of a historical sea 
battle that has come down to us from the ancient world. The 
Egyptian galleys sweep down on the ships manned by the invaders, 
easily distinguished by their distinctive feathered headdresses. 
Egyptian archers from ships and shore spray them with a withering 
fire, crippling them severely before they can get close enough to 
strike a blow with their swords and thrusting spears; the very look- 
out in one of the crow's nests has been picked off and hangs dead 
over the rail. The pharaoh's men then move in with shield and 
spear to deliver the coup de grace: in the fight one of the north- 
erners' ships has capsized; some of the crew are bound captives 
in an Egyptian vessel, while others swim to shore only to be 
pinioned by the waiting Egyptian archers. 

But not all the northerners were destroyed in this battle. Bat- 
tered remnants made their way northward. The Tjeker planted 
themselves about Mount Carmel, and the Peleset settled to the 
south along the coast of Palestine. There they remained, not strong 
enough to try another attack on Egypt but soon sufficiently recov- 
ered to resume their old game of sea raiding and to play a great 
role in the pages of the Old Testament. 

Just about the same time, in a different quarter of the Mediter- 
ranean, another great action by sea raiders took place. It was, in all 
probability, much smaller in scope than that which Ramses had 
thrown back, involving fewer men and ships. Yet its story is one of 
the best known there is, for it was told not by a scribe or even a 
historian but by an immortal poet 

On a hill in northwest Asia Minor overlooking the Dardanelles, 
sometime in the remote past the city we know as Troy had been 
founded. It grew steadily more powerful through the centuries. It 
built massive walls to protect itself, engaged in wide trade, espe- 
cially in silver which was mined in the area, extended its rule over 
its neighbors, and exacted tribute from them. By the beginning of 
the twelfth century B.C. its wealth was fabulous. Yet, though it had 
no fleet of any consequence, its impregnable location and its frown- 
ing walls were enough to discourage the ambitions of the ordinary 

34 The Ancient Mariners 

sea raider whose hit-and-run tactics were designed for lightly de- 
fended villages. A fortress such as Troy could only be taken by 
extended siege and full-scale attack. 

The sea raiders of Greece took up the challenge. Because some 
centuries later a great poet decided to use what they did as the 
subject matter of an epic the world knows of this struggle and the 
men who figured in it as it does of no other. Homer, of course, got 
his story not from any set of archives but from popular traditions 
and he was himself a creative artist, not a war diarist. Yet the tale 
he tells is so coherent that behind the imaginative poetry can be 
discerned a skeleton of fact. 

For once the major cities of Greece forwent their traditional 
enthusiastic pastime of preying on one another and joined hands 
for a combined operation against Troy. Even the romantic cause 
that Homer assigns to the war may be true: the expedition may 
very well have been triggered by an abduction of the particularly 
toothsome wife of some Greek chieftain neatly carried out by an 
amorous Trojan; wars have been started for less. Each leader con- 
tributed ships and men to the great undertaking: Achilles led a 
contingent from northeast Greece, Nestor from southwestern 
Greece, Odysseus from a nearby island the chieftains' names have 
become household words. Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, one of 
the most powerful of the contemporary Greek sea lords, received 
the high command. The fleet rendezvoused in a little barren cove 
on the east coast of Greece and, after some difficulty with contrary 
winds the prevailing summer northeasterlies are foul for a voyage 
from Greece to Troy set sail. 

The problem that faced Agamemnon and his staff was the same 
in a very real sense that confronted the American forces in the 
Pacific a half a dozen times in World War II: he had to ferry his 
forces safely to the point of attack, secure a beachhead, and then 
break through the enemy's defenses. He had embarked, in other 
words, on a full-fledged amphibious operation. It was not the first 
that had taken place on the Mediterranean. Obviously it was by 
some form of amphibious attack that the Greeks had conquered 
Crete some three centuries eariier. But because no Homer chose 
it as subject matter, it has escaped the notice of history. Yet we can 
deduce that most likely its naval side outweighed the amphibious. 

War on the Sea 35 

On that occasion the key to victory was to defeat at the outset the 
powerful fleet on which the Minoans relied for their defense; once 
that was done, the island's unwalled towns couldn't have been 
much of a problem. The sail to Troy and the landing were the 
easiest phases of Agamemnon's operation, for Troy had no fleet 
and the Greeks were the undisputed masters of the seas. His troubles 
began once he had drawn up his forces on the shore. To lay siege 
to a strong point in those days was a protracted and costly business, 
and commanders thought long and hard before undertaking one. 
Archaeologists have uncovered the walls of Troy, and the visitor 
even today can take in at a glance the magnitude of the task that 
faced Agamemnon and his Greeks. 

His chief ally was time. He had to keep the garrison bottled up 
and starve the city out. This meant that he had to secure his own 
lines of supply, cut off the enemy's, and maintain his forces under 
rigid discipline in a more or less static position until blockade 
could ultimately take its grim effect. His fleet gave him uncon- 
tested control of the coast, and he sent out constant raiding parties 
to secure provisions for his men and deny them to the enemy. But 
his siege was never really complete. The hinterland to the east of 
the city was always more or less open, and Troy was always able 
to attract or, with its immense wealth, buy new allies who refilled 
the ranks and restored the reserves of food and weapons. 

Agamemnon had a problem greater even than the leaks in his 
blockade. He had to keep an undisciplined, highly temperamental 
gang of sea raiders at the wearing, monotonous job of maintaining 
a siege. It was like trying to run a music school with a faculty of 
prima donnas. He didn't even have what we would consider funda- 
mental for his job: absolute power of command. He was merely 
the chief in a group of leaders who had banded in a loose confedera- 
tion for this single operation; there wasn't to be another like it for 
over five hundred years. The Greeks throughout their history have 
built up an impressive reputation for being resistant to discipline, 
and the men to whom Agamemnon had to issue orders had a sus- 
ceptibility to fancied insult of Homeric proportions. It hardly 
helped matters that, at the very outset, over some ridiculously 
minor issue a mighty squabble arose, and one of them, in an im- 
mortal fit of the sulks, withdrew his forces from the battle line and 

36 The Ancient Mariners 

spent practically the whole of the war in his tent. It was inevitable 
too that, when large groups of men had to live together under 
primitive conditions with no knowledge of hygiene, disease would 
break out. Homer said it came from Apollo; more likely it came 
from the latrines or the lack of them. 

The poet claims that the war lasted ten years. Two probably 
would be nearer the mark, and that itself is no mean period for a 
group of sea raiders to have stuck to one project. Even at the end 
when Hector's death deprived the Trojans of the general who had 
so brilliantly and doggedly conducted the defense, the city's walls 
were enough to keep the Greeks, weakened by plague, dissension, 
and casualties, from victory. They had only one move left: to try 
a ruse. If the stratagem of the wooden horse had not worked, 
Agamemnon would have had to retire and the first amphibious 
operation recorded in detail would have ended in an ignominious 
admission of defeat. 

It was their incomparable fleet that had led the Greeks to try an 
attack on Troy in the first place. Their fighting ships had no peer 
in the Mediterranean in that age. Homer is proud of these vessels 
and describes them with loving detail. 

He was most struck by their sleek racing lines, for he cannot 
mention them without remarking on their slender, graceful appear- 
ance and their swiftness. This is, of course, what we should expect 
in a sea raider's vessel built first and foremost for speed. He often 
calls them "black"; they must have been kept liberally smeared 
with pitch. They were "blue-prowed" or "red-prowed"; that is, 
decorated, as ships have often been ever since, with colored bow- 
patches. He was impressed, too, by the cunning joints and other 
careful craftsmanship of the shipwrights; the vessels, in his words, 
are "well-planked," "well-wrought," and "well-balanced." 

There were two types of galleys in the fleet, twenty-oared and 
fifty-oared. Even the smaller size must have been a full forty feet 
long: an oarsman needs at least three feet; ten of them on a side 
totals thirty and we must allow another ten, as we shall see, for 
decks fore and aft. They were so low that on one occasion when the 
Greeks, under savage Trojan attack, were driven back upon their 
beached ships Hector could reach up and grab the ornament atop 

War on the Sea 37 

a sternpost and Ajax could leap from a gunwale to the ground 
with ease. Homer happens to mention that they were seven feet 
wide where the steersman sat in the sternsheets, so they couldn't 
have been much more than nine to ten amidships. They were so 
light that, when Odysseus was making a fast getaway from the is- 
land of the Cyclops, he was able to get his vessel free of the shore 
with one good shove on the boat pole. The crews ran them up on 
the beach every night. The fifty-oared craft differed only in being 
longer, perhaps ninety feet instead of forty, and correspondingly 
beamier. Either size was ideal for sea raiding, low enough to lie 
hidden behind some promontory while stalking a prey, swift enough 
to dash out and overtake a clumsy merchantman handily, and light 
enough in draught to run, if chased, to the protection of the shore 
no matter how shallow the water. 

Homer calls them "hollow ships"; that is, they were undecked al- 
most throughout, like a dory. Since the slightest chop sent water 
over their low boards, a latticed spray shield was generally rigged 
forward. There was a scant deck there, too, for the lookout and for 
a few marines when the vessel engaged in combat, and there was a 
slightly larger one aft for the helmsman and captain. Since these 
ships offered no more in the way of comfort than a racing shell, a 
skipper did all he could to spend nights ashore; if he had to sail 
through the night he himself could flake out on the afterdeck un- 
der a scrap of sailcloth, but the crew spent the hours dozing on 
their benches. Gear and provisions were stowed under the decks 
and the rowing thwarts. When the King of the Winds sent out the 
south wind and gave Odysseus a bag holding all the others, the only 
place it could be stowed was under the rowers' seats. The men, 
seeing the mysterious bundle under their feet night and day, 
couldn't restrain their curiosity, undid the knot one night when 
the captain had fallen asleep from exhaustion, and thus inaugu- 
rated the much suffering man's long series of mishaps. 

Whenever a Homeric skipper could, he sailed rather than rowed. 
Like a Viking chief, he and his rowers were companions, and using 
the oars was only a part of their job; they were his fighting men as 
well. He neither could afford nor was in any position to use them 
up like the commander of a slave-driven medieval galley. His row- 
ing chief beat only time, never the rowers. When the vessel was 

j8 The Ancient Mariners 

under oars, the mast was unstepped and lowered into a crutch aft, 
and the sailing gear was stowed under the benches. As soon as a 
favorable wind came along, the crew leaped to make sail. First the 
mast was hauled up by two forestays, set in the mast-step, locked in 
with a wedge, and secured aft by a backstay. The one sail with its 
yard was hoisted and set by braces to catch the wind. The weather 
sheet was made fast, and the helmsman took his position with the 
leeward sheet in one hand and the tiller, a bar socketed into the 
steering oar, in the other. To shorten sail, Homer's sailors used 
brails instead of reef-points, lines run from the yard, looped about 
the foot of the sail and carried down to the deck. These rolled up 
the sail toward the yard just the way a Venetian blind is raised. The 
sail was made of linen, not one piece but patches sewn together for 
added strength, and the lines of leather strips or of twisted papyrus 

When there was no wind the crew had to run out the oars. They 
were taken up from below the benches where they had been stowed 
and placed against tholes, wooden pins which were used instead of 
oarlocks as the fulcrum against which the oar handle worked. Each 
oar had a leather strap which was looped about the tholepin; in 
this way the oar was saved from going over the side if the rower 
happened to lose his grip. 

Whether under sail or oars, working these ships was strenuous, 
uncomfortable, and dangerous. They were much less sturdy than 
the robust craft of the Vikings, and the Greeks were correspond- 
ingly far less bold than those reckless sea raiders. When Nestor, for 
example, sailed home from Troy, his first leg was fifteen miles to 
the island of Tenedos, his second an all-day run of fifty to Lesbos. 
Here he held a full-scale conference of his captains to plot the next 
course. With great trepidation he elected to strike out straight 
across the open sea instead of island hopping, made it safely to the 
southern tip of Euboea and, on landing, set up a great sacrifice 
to Zeus, "thanking him for crossing that vast stretch of sea," all of 
one hundred and ten miles. Usually skippers stuck to the shore, 
sailing from one landfall to the next. When they had to travel at 
night they steered by the stars, but they avoided such voyages as 
much as possible. They much preferred to put in at evening, run" 
ning the vessel smartly up a beach or, if there was none handy, 

War on the Sea 39 

throwing over the stone anchor in some shallow protected cove; 
this gave an opportunity to refill the water jars as well as to pro- 
vide a night's sleep for all hands. On top of all these precautions, 
they limited their sailing to the time of year when the weather was 
most dependable, putting their boats in the water at the begin- 
ning of spring, around April, and hauling them out in October or 
so, when the fall set in. Practically all maritime activity, whether 
peaceful or warlike, was squeezed into the period between these 
months, and this remained more or less the case throughout the 
whole of ancient times. 

In a famous passage Homer tells how a boat was made; it is the 
earliest description of shipbuilding in literature. Very likely the 
technique described was that used in later days when the poet 
actually lived, one which he may have observed in a local dockyard. 
But shipwrights are notoriously conservative, and the method he 
recounts we may be sure had been in use centuries before as well. 
Odysseus, in the course of his wanderings, was shipwrecked and 
wound up with little more than his skin on an island inhabited by 
a goddess who, rather against her inclination, was ordered by the 
higher powers to send the much suffering hero on his way. The first 
step was to enable him to build some sort of craft. The goddess 
gave him a double-edged bronze ax, an adze, and a drill and led 
him to a spot where there was a fine stand of aspen, alder, and pine. 
Odysseus set immediately to work. 

He felled twenty trees in all, lopped them clean, smoothed them carefully, 
and adzed them straight and square. Then he bored them and made 
them fast to one another with dowels and battens. He laid out the 
bottom as wide as a good shipwright would for a beamy freighter. He 
set up close-set ribs, made half-decks fast to them, and finished up by 
adding the long side-planking. He stepped a mast and yard and added 
a broad oar to steer with. He fenced the hull about with a latticed bulwark 
to keep the water out, and he heaped brush upon it. The goddess brought 
him doth for a sail; he fashioned a fine one. He rigged braces, brails, 
and sheets and, putting the craft on rollers, hauled it down to the sea. 

What precisely did these seagoing greyhounds that carried the 
Greeks to Troy look like? Built upon a frame of ribs and keel, 
they had little in common with Egyptian craft held together by 
elaborate girding ropes. Homer's heroes lived in Greece about 1200 

War on the Sea 41 

B.C. and the general age that he describes came to a close about 1000 
B.C. In the ruins of the cities of this period archaeologists have 
found very few representations of ships. There is only one that is 
of any help, drawn as decoration on a pottery container probably 
in the twelfth century B.C. (PI. gb) . The vessel it shows fits quite 
well with what we have gleaned from the poet. There is one 
large squaresail, but that is hardly a distinctive feature. The hull 
is long and low. More important, the prow, unlike those, for 
example, of Egyptian craft, rises abruptly without curve from the 
keel. Homer often compares the shape of his ships to the "straight 
horns" of cattle as against, say, the curly horns of a ram. This prow 
is straight but hardly "horned"; its blunt top is finished off with a 
fish-shaped ensign. But another picture, drawn on a vase about the 
same time or perhaps a bit earlier, shows a bow profile that neatly 
fits Homer's simile (PL gc) . 

The Greeks were not aboriginal inhabitants of their peninsula 
but most likely made their way there by water. They were, then, a 
people who knew the sea. Yet they need not have been the inventors 
of the craft just described. Before the Greeks ever came to Greece, 
the Minoans had been laying the foundations of a maritime empire 
and they had navies which sailed the Mediterranean centuries be- 
fore the attack on Troy. The only pictures of warships of this early 
age come from the island of Syros in the Aegean north of Crete. 
Sketchy as they are, one characteristic stands out: the prows rise 
heavy and straight from the keels and are often topped with a fish- 
shaped ensign (PL ga) . If these are Minoan vessels, then it is 
not unlikely that the Greeks of the Mycenaean Age borrowed, as 
they did so much else, their ship designs, down to the very ensign, 
from Crete. 

The most carefully drawn pictures we have of Mediterranean 
warships of this age are those, drawn on the walls of Ramses' 
temple, which portray the vessels of the peoples whom he defeated 
in 1190 B.C. (Fig. 3) . Like any sea raider's ship, these are light and 
lie low in the water. They appear without oars, but this does not 
mean that they were driven by sail alone, as some writers have 
hastily concluded; a sea raider could no more depend on a pure 
sailing vessel than a jockey could on a carthorse. The Egyptian 
artist has shown them in this way to prove how sagaciously Ramses 

42 The Ancient Mariners 

had seen to it that "the net was made ready for them, to ensnare 
them/' They were taken so completely by surprise that they were 
still traveling under sail, their oars stowed beneath the thwarts. 
There are differences in detail between these ships and Homer's. 
Though the prow rises stiff and straight from the keel, so too does 
the stern, unlike the Homeric craft whose shipwrights preferred a 
graceful curving line. Stern and stem end in carved figures of birds, 
and the mast is sturdy enough to carry a crow's nest, features which 
Homer never mentions. The Egyptians' galleys in these pictures 
show some changes when compared with their earlier craft. The 
heavy hawsers that used to be necessary to hold the frame together 
are gone, as well as that peculiarly Egyptian feature of rigging, the 
lower yard on the squaresail, and vertical brails have made their 
appearance. It looks as if the local naval architects finally had the 
good sense, in designing ships for the open sea, to copy the sturdy 
hull and handy rig that their Mediterranean neighbors were using. 
To the merchant skipper, anxiously slogging his way to port, 
it made little difference whether the ominous black shape he 
spotted on the horizon had the curved stern of a Greek raider or 
the straight one of the "Northerners of the Isles." Both spelled 
trouble for him. Centuries were to pass before this condition im- 




WHEN ODYSSEUS LANDED at Ithaca after twenty years of war and 
wandering, alone and helpless, disguised in beggar's rags, an aged 
shepherd gave him shelter and, in the course of the evening, not 
knowing his guest's true identity, asked him for the story of his life. 
(In addition to being conventional courtesy, this would of course 
give the old fellow a chance of telling his in return.) Odysseus 
naturally had a tale ready. He was a sea raider from Crete, he an- 
nounced, had served in the Trojan War and had had the luck to 
come back alive. Then he proceeded to tell the following: 

I spent only one happy month at home with my wife and children. 
Then I got the urge to ready some good ships and crews and lead a 
raid against Egypt. I had nine ships and it didn't take me long to get 
them manned. 

The men feasted for six days; I had plenty of animals on hand to 
sacrifice and to eat. On the seventh we slipped our mooring and set 
sail from Crete. The wind was fair, a fresh northerly, and we speeded 
along as if we were running downstream in a river. Nothing went wrong 
on any of the ships. We sat around the decks while the wind and the 


44 The Ancient Mariners 

helmsman kept the course. No one even reported to sick bay. In five days 
we arrived at the river of Egypt and anchored. 

I left men to guard the ships and sent a scouting party to find out 
what they could and report. But they rashly took matters in their own hands 
and immediately began to plunder the countryside, killing men and 
carrying off women and children. The word soon reached a city: the 
people heard cries at dawn and came out on the run. Soon the plain was 
full of men and horses: bronze armor flashed everywhere. My men couldn't 
fight back; Zeus the god of thunder had sent panic upon them and de- 
struction threatened on all sides. Many of us were killed, the rest carried 
off as slaves. 

The incident (as well as the rest of the story, which is irrelevant 
here) is made up, to be sure, and by a famed liar at that. But 
Odysseus deliberately chose to tell something the listener would 
nod knowingly at, something so everyday that his suspicions would 
never be aroused. This makes it even more valuable than a frag- 
ment of history, the factual record of a specific instance. It is the 
sort of thing that happened in the thirteenth to the eleventh cen- 
turies B.C. after the trade of the Mycenaean world had dwindled 
away. This is piracy as it was in the earliest days of its history. 

Our stereotyped conception of a pirate is a swarthy mustachioed 
ruffian, heading a cutthroat crew, who pounces upon a helpless 
merchant ship, collects the valuables, singles out the desirable cap- 
tives for the slave block and offers the rest a walk on the plank. 
The ancient world, as we shall see, came to know this type all too 
well in later centuries, complete (except perhaps for the mustaches) 
even to a version of walking the plank. But Odysseus' story and 
others like it show that pirates at this remote age were raiders of 
coast towns, more like tenth century Vikings than like eighteenth 
century Barbary corsairs. They worked in groups because a single 
boatload of men would not be enough against even a small village. 
They plundered on land rather than on sea because the pickings 
were far more profitable. A town could yield a rich harvest of 
cattle, furnishings, valuable adornments, perhaps some objects of 
gold and silver, but above all women and children who would 
bring good prices in the slave market. And a raid, if pulled off 
properly as Odysseus' was not , was not too dangerous, for all 
its adventurousness and bountiful return. A stealthy entry into 

Raiders and Traders 45 

a harbor at night with muffled oars, a few hours of careful profes- 
sional scouting, a sudden attack at dawn, a rush back aboard, a 
few hours of grueling work at the rowers' benches and every sur- 
viving member of the crew found himself considerably richer than 
he had been twenty-four hours earlier. This was much simpler, 
surer, and more rewarding than taking on a merchantman which 
might, on capture, turn out to have little of real value on board 
a load of building stone, perhaps, or wood, or cheap pottery or 
even to be sailing in ballast. Moreover slave dealers were much 
more interested in young girls and boys who could be trained for 
household work than they were in weatherbeaten merchant sea- 
men. Nor was there any need to raid shipping to fill up the row- 
ers' benches for, again more like Vikings and unlike Turkish cor- 
sairs, each sea raider both fought and pulled an oar. The slave 
trade was in that era the chief support of piracy and it was to re- 
main so for many centuries thereafter, even, as we shall see, in times 
when rich cargoes of merchandise were available for highjacking. 
Any town was fair game for the sea raiders, but naturally the 
richer spots were preferred. Odysseus shrewdly locates his incident 
in Egypt. The land of the pharaohs was no longer the political 
power it had been in the past, but the Nile which watered and re- 
newed the fields each year guaranteed the country's economic 
health, and Egypt's prosperous villages were inviting targets. Even in 
her palmy days Egypt had had troubles: one of the Tell el-Amarna 
letters, from the files of one of her most powerful rulers, concerns 
attacks she had suffered at the hands of raiders from Asia Minor 
(p. go). Homer at one point provides what amounts almost to a 
directory of the places die raiders operated in. He has a visitor to 
the court of Menelaus remark on the richness of the treasures he 
saw all about the palace. "Ah, yes," Menelaus replies, "I wandered 
for seven years and suffered much to collect these treasures and 
bring them home in my ships. I've been to Cyprus, Phoenicia, 
Egypt; I've seen the people of Ethiopia and of Sidon, and I've 
been to Libya." Phoenicia, with its cities of Sidon, Tyre, and 
Byblus that had grown rich as seaports, was bound to catch the 
raiders' eye. Homer makes one of the nurses in the Odyssey nurses 
were invariably slaves in this period the daughter of a wealthy 
citizen of Sidon from whom she had been kidnaped by pirates. 

46 The Ancient Mariners 

But no place near the sea was really safe. On the very first leg of 
their voyage home from Troy, apparently just to get back into 
practice, since heaven knows they had loaded enough booty when 
they left, Odysseus and his men on coming to a town in Thrace 
"sacked the city and killed the men and, taking the women and 
plenty of cattle and goods, divided them up." It was an age that 
men didn't easily forget. Over half a millennium later the great 
Greek historian Thucydides wrote: 

In ancient times both Greeks and non-Greeks who lived along the coasts 
or on islands, once they found out how to make their way across the 
seas, turned to piracy. They would fall upon and plunder the towns, 
which were either unwalled or mere groups of villages. This was a life- 
long pursuit for them, one that hadn't as yet received any stigma but 
was even considered an honorable profession. ... So, because of piracy 
cities long ago, both in the islands and along the coasts of the mainland, 
were preferably built far in from the sea. 

All that we have been saying of life on the sea in this period 
the ubiquitous raiders, the difficulties the legitimate trader had, 
the feeble position of Egypt comes graphically into focus in one 
of those unique documents that every now and then time is kind 
enough to spare for later ages. 

The ancient writing material of Egypt and of many of her 
neighbors was papyrus, a very efficient paper made out of strips 
of the papyrus plant, the reed that once grew abundantly along the 
Nile. Of the hundreds of thousands of ancient documents which 
must have been inscribed upon papyrus, a mere handful survive. 
The substance disintegrates in any sort of dampness; the few 
that we have owe their preservation to the miraculously dry climate 
of Egypt. They lay undisturbed in her arid sands for hundreds, 
sometimes thousands, of years until some peasant stumbled across 
them or some archaeologist dug them up. 

One day, sixty or so years ago, a group of Egyptian fellahin, 
rooting around for fuel, unearthed a mutilated papyrus roll. In 
due course it found its way into the hands of dealers and, eventu- 
ally, of scholars. Often, papyrus documents turn out to be dis- 
couragingly repetitive: many an archaeologist has had high hopes 
dashed by finding that the well-preserved roll he has just uncovered 
is only one more copy of the Iliad or of the Book of the Dead, the 

Raiders and Traders 47 

Egyptian bible. But this piece was unique. It was the carefully 
drawn-up report of an Egyptian priest named Wenamon who had 
been sent by his superiors some time around 1 100 B.C. on a business 
trip to Byblus in Syria. It is like suddenly having a light flicked on 
in a dark room. Reading Wenamon's account we can for a moment 
relive a fragment of a trader's life in the twelfth century before 

Wenamon came from Thebes far up the Nile. His official title 
was "Eldest of the Hall of the House of Amon" (Amon was the 
supreme Egyptian deity) . Whatever his exact clerical position was, 
it is clear that he stood fairly high in the church hierarchy or he 
never would have been chosen for the assignment. 

Every year during a sacred festival at Thebes an image of Amon 
was carried on the Nile in a ceremonial barge. This particular year, 
apparently, a new one had to be built and, since Egypt is prac- 
tically treeless, the lumber had to be imported. The best and most 
convenient source was then, as thousands of years before, the 
famous stand of cedars in Lebanon (see p. 4). Someone had to 
go to Byblus to arrange the shipment. Herihor, the high priest of 
Egypt, selected Wenamon. 

It was a time when Egypt was at one of the numerous low points 
of her long history. The country was not even united under one 
ruler. From the capital at Thebes where Wenamon as a member 
of the priestly college lived, Ramses XI ruled only upper Egypt; 
from Tanis, a relatively minor town in the delta area, Nesubaneb- 
ded, a local prince, controlled lower Egypt. So Wenamon's first 
move was to make his way down the Nile to the court at Tanis to 
pay his respects to this prince and his queen Tanetamon and to 
enlist their aid. He presented a letter of introduction from Herihor, 
his credentials or passport, as it were, and their majesties re- 
ceived him graciously. They didn't go so far as to order a special 
ship for him but they arranged passage on a vessel bound for 
Syria under the command of a captain named Mengebet whom they 
presumably instructed to pay particular attention to this important 
passenger. On April soth, fifteen days after leaving Thebes, Menge- 
bet raised anchor, sailed down to the river's mouth, and the vessel, 
as Wenamon puts it, "descended into the great Syrian Sea." 

So far things had gone swimmingly for Wenamon, and at the 

48 The Ancient Mariners 

first port of call it seemed that his luck would hold out. They put 
in at the town of Dor, a little to the south of Carmel, where a tribe 
of sea raiders called the Tjeker (cf. p. 32) had established a colony 
less than a century earlier, and the ruler Beder hastened to dispatch 
to the newly arrived envoy "50 loaves of bread, a jar of wine, and 
a joint of beef." Wenamon, who, as the narrative makes clear, held 
a glowing opinion of his own importance, took the gifts in gracious 
stride as being no more nor less than his due. He probably was 
genuinely delighted to get something palatable to eat. The ship's 
galley could have offered him nothing better than biscuit or dried 
fish, but it's more than likely that, born and bred as he was hun- 
dreds of miles up the Nile and away from salt water, he had been 
seasick every mile of the sail and hadn't had a scrap of food since 
the moment the ship had left the river. The wine in particular 
must have been welcome since Egypt produced very little of it, 
and that not very good, while Syria was the home of renowned 

This was the last time fortune was to smile on Wenamon for a 
long while. The next lines of his narrative report a horrendous 
misfortune, one that was to bring a whole series of others in its 
wake: Wenamon awoke from what we may suppose, after all his 
fine food and wine, was a refreshing sleep to discover that but it's 
better to tell it in his own unvarnished words. "Then," he writes, 
"a man of my ship made off having stolen one vessel of gold 
amounting to 5 deben [about \y$ Ibs.], 4 vessels of silver amount- 
ing to 20 deben, a sack of silver 11 deben. Total of what he stole: 
5 deben of gold, 31 deben [about 7*4 Ibs.] of silver." Every cent 
the poor fellow had been carrying was gone, his travel allowance 
as well as the cash Herihor had entrusted to him to pay for the 
lumber. He had only one valuable possession left. Still hidden se- 
curely in his cabin was a small image of Amon-of-the-Road, the 
patron saint of travelers, which Herihor had also turned over to 
him to help him in all phases of the assignment. The two priests 
clearly expected great things of it. Certainly the amount of cash 
Wenamon had been given was pretty niggardly considering the 
purchases he had to make. As the sequel shows, their trust in the 
wonder-working idol was a good deal more than circumstances 

Raiders and Traders 49 

Wenamon did about the only thing he could under the circum- 
stances. "In the morning I got up/' he reports, "and went to the 
king's house and said, 1 have been robbed in your harbor and 
since you're king of this land you should start an investigation to 
recover my belongings/ " The Egyptian knew that this line of 
reasoning was not very convincing, for he quickly added, "For 
the money belongs to Amon-Re, king of gods, lord of the lands, 
and to Nesubanebded and to Herihor and the other lords of Egypt 
and also to Weret and Mekmel and Zakar-Baal, the prince of 
Byblus [these men were the three lumber dealers who would have 
received the cash]." In other words this was no mere theft of private 
property but of state funds, one therefore that demanded inter- 
national cooperation. 

Beder of course was not the type to be bluffed by any such non- 
sense. At the same time he seems to have been a very decent sort. 
"Your Excellency," he replied (a little lavishness with titles went 
a long way with Wenamon) , "I don't care how important a per- 
son you are, I refuse to recognize the complaint that you've just 
lodged. If the thief who boarded your ship to steal your money 
was a citizen of my country, I'd pay you back from my own treasury 
until I could establish his identity. But he was a man from your 
own ship. However, wait a few days and I'll do some investigating." 

After nine days of waiting Wenamon started to fidget. At this 
point the papyrus is tattered and we can only try to guess from 
tantalizing scraps of sentences just what happened. Apparently 
Wenamon got so officious that Beder could no longer maintain an 
attitude of quiet courtesy and at one point had to tell him bluntly 
to shut up. Wenamon then elected to continue the voyage, relying 
on his sacred image of Amon-of-the-Road to take care of the ob- 
viously pressing economic problems that were sure to arise. 

The next series of events, however, shows that the Egyptian was 
not averse to lending his idol a hand in dealing with some of the 
problems. During the voyage between Tyre and Byblus, probably 
in the port of Sidon, it looks as if the Eldest of the Hall of the 
House of Amon saw a chance to recoup thirty deben of silver by 
holding up some Tjekers and took it. The papyrus is still muti- 
lated at this point, but the sequel shows that something of this sort 
had happened. Armed robbery is not the sort of thing we should 

go The Ancient Mariners 

expect from a highly respected Egyptian prelate and very likely 
not at all the sort of thing he expected he would be doing in those 
happy days when he walked up the gangplank of the boat that 
took him downriver to Tanis. He had no difficulty salving his 
conscience: his money had been stolen in a Tjeker harbor and 
this money was Tjeker money; it was probably all just Amon's way 
of squaring things. "I am taking your money," he told his victims, 
"and keeping it until you find mine. Was it not a man of Tjeker 
who stole it?" 

If Wenamon thought that his troubles were now over, he 
couldn't have been more wrong. The moment he dropped anchor 
in the harbor of Byblus where he intended to buy the lumber, the 
harbor master met him with a short but unambiguous message 
from Zakar-Baal, the ruling prince: "Get out of my harbor!" The 
most reasonable explanation for the unexpected order is that the 
Tjekers had sent a wanted-for-theft message ahead to Byblus and, 
since they were his neighbors on the south and had a reputation 
as formidable sea raiders, the prince was not anxious to start any 
trouble with them. A man of Wenamon's stamp, however, who 
had just pulled himself out of a hole by a successful piece of 
hold-up work, was not going to let a little thing like this stop him. 
For twenty nine days he hung around the harbor even though 
each morning the harbor master duly reported with the same mes- 
sage. Zakar-Baal, curiously enough, went no further than this. He 
had to discharge his obligations to a set of touchy neighbors, but 
at the same time he wanted to hold on to the chance of a profitable 
sale if he could. So he chose this interesting expedient of issuing 
an order and doing nothing to back it up; we shall see later that 
he had a knack for compromises of this sort. 

Finally Wenamon gave up. Mengebet had already left, but when 
Wenamon found another boat scheduled to leave shortly for Egypt 
he booked passage on it and put his secretary and all his luggage 
aboard. He himself hung back, planning to delay until after dark 
when he could get his precious image to his stateroom without 
being observed. "I waited for the darkness," he notes, "thinking 
that when it descended I would get the god on board so that no 
other eye may see him." 

But at this moment the unexpected happened. The harbor mas- 

Raiders and Traders 51 

ter approached with the announcement that Zakar-Baal had sched- 
uled an interview for the following morning. Wenamon, under- 
standably enough, was suspicious. "I said to him/' he writes, 
" 'Aren't you the one who came to me daily to tell me to get out 
of the harbor? And aren't you telling me to stay now just to 
make me lose my ship so that you can come back and start order- 
ing me to go away again?' " Zakar-Baal met this cogent objection 
by issuing an order to hold the ship. 

Wenamon has a ready explanation for the sudden change of at- 
titude. The previous evening, while Zakar-Baal was conducting 
sacrifice, one of the young nobles at court suddenly fell into a 
frenzied fit and started to scream, "Bring the god herel Bring the 
messenger who is carrying him! Amon is the one who sent him from 
Egypt and made him come here." Wenamon clearly is out to con- 
vince the reader that the influence of his wonderful image had 
reached the court. Perhaps so. But we are entitled to the conjecture 
at least that what reached there was perhaps something more 
tangible, some of the stolen silver that Wenamon was now able 
to jingle in his pocket, for example. The Egyptian, as we can see 
by this time, is no man to let Amon-of-the-Road do all the work. 
He could hardly have spent his twenty nine days at the harbor 
just taking in the sea air. On the other hand, the fit may have been 
a device engineered by Zakar-Baal to end a little comedy that he 
had been directing for almost three weeks. The prince, as the con- 
tinuation of the story reveals, was a most engaging character with a 
sharp eye for business and a well-developed sense of humor, a fact 
that Wenamon never tumbled to. He particularly liked to take his 
self-important visitor down a peg or two and there is no question 
that he thoroughly enjoyed keeping the Eldest of the Hall of the 
House of Amon on tenterhooks and making him cool his heels 
around the harbor. Besides, it satisfied the requirements of proto- 
col toward his Tjeker neighbors. But it was no time for jokes 
when a potential customer was on the point of decamping without 
leaving an order. So Wenamon was suddenly summoned to the 

"I found him," he reports, "sitting in his upper chamber, lean- 
ing his back against a window, while the waves of the great Syrian 
Sea beat against the wall behind him." It isn't usual for Wenamon 

52 The Ancient Mariners 

to include circumstantial details like this; the interview and its 
setting must have burned itself into his memory. "I said to him, 
'The blessing of Amon upon you/ " The Egyptian must have been 
all wound up for an extended exchange of amenities, as at home. 
If so, he was disappointed. Zakar-Baal, all business, came right to 
the point: "How long ago did you leave Egypt?" he asked. "Five 
months and one day/' the envoy replied, probably with feeling 
the voyage could be done in a couple of weeks at most. Then came 
the question that Wenamon must have been hoping against hope 
he would be spared. But he must have seen at the first moment of 
the interview that a man like Zakar-Baal, who kept one waiting 
for over a month and brusquely dispensed with all one's carefully 
thought out phrases, would inevitably ask it. "Where," the prince 
said next, "is the letter of the priest of Amon which you should 
have with you?" Wenamon had set out with credentials, of course, 
but at that moment they were lying in some desk drawer in Tanis: 
he had presented them there and forgotten to ask for them back. 
There was nothing to do except play the hand out: "I gave it to 
Nesubanebded and Tanetamon," he replied, probably with the 
sort of expression a motorist tells a traffic cop that he has left his 
driver's license at home. Zakar-Baal saw a fine opportunity for a 
scene. "He became very angry," Wenamon writes, and we can 
readily picture the prince working himself into a rage with histri- 
onic art, "and said to me, 'What! you don't have the letter! And 
where is the ship and crew that Nesubanebded gave you? Didn't he 
turn you over to this foreign ship captain just to have him kill you 
and throw you overboard? If that had happened where would peo- 
ple have looked for the god? And where would they have looked for 
you?' " Wenamon continues: "I said to him, 'What makes you 
think it wasn't an Egyptian ship? Nesubanebded has only Egyptian 
crews. He has no Syrian crews/ He said to me, 'There are twenty 
ships belonging to this harbor which do business with Nesu- 
banebded. And isn't it a known fact that at Sidon, where you have 
been, there are fifty which do business with Werket-El and are 
anchored near his office?' " It was a snide remark that hit home: 
foreign bottoms now carried most of Egypt's trade items; there was 
little left of the native merchant marine, and Wenamon knew it. 
He knew it so well that, though rarely at a loss for words and 

Raiders and Traders 53 

usually ready with quite a flow of them, he had to admit that he 
"was silent at this critical moment." 

Zakar-Baal had had his fun and it was now time to get down to 
business. "What have you come here for?" he asked. "I have come," 
was the reply, "for timber for the sacred barge of Amon-Re, King 
of gods. Your father supplied it, your grandfather supplied it and 
so will you." 

Since the prince held all the cards he could afford to overlook 
bluster of that sort. "They certainly did," he answered in the best 
of spirits, "and if you pay me I'll do it too. Why, when my family 
carried out the former commission, the Pharaoh god bless him 
sent six shiploads of Egyptian merchandise which were unloaded 
into our warehouses. What are you bringing me?" At this point 
Zakar-Baal couldn't resist another chance to torture the poor 
Egyptian: he called for his secretary and ordered him to bring out 
the old ledgers. Entry by entry he went over them for Wenamon's 
benefit. And there must have been plenty of entries, for the grand 
total of receipts was 1000 deben. 

There had been long periods when Lebanon was an Egyptian 
possession (p. 28) and the pharaohs didn't have to buy the cedar 
they needed but just took it. Even less than a century before 
Wenamon's journey, Egypt had held all the land south of Zakar- 
Baal's principality and the prince's predecessors had been careful 
to treat this powerful neighbor with courtesy and respect. Things 
were very different now, however, and Zakar-Baal, who must have 
hugely enjoyed the whole interview, gleefully reminds Wenamon 
of this fact. "If the ruler of Egypt were the owner of my property," 
he tells him, "and I were his servant, he wouldn't have had to send 
money. . . . But / am not your servant nor your master's. All I 
have to do is say the word and the logs will be ready on the shore. 
But where are the ships you should have brought to transport them? 
Where are the lines to lash them? . . . This really is a stupid trip 
they have had you make!" At this crack, Wenamon finally lost his 
temper. "I told him," he writes, " 'Wrong! This is not a stupid 
trip at all! Every ship on the river belongs to Amon and so does the 
sea and Lebanon which you call your own. The cedars grow only 
for his sacred bark, for he owns every ship. It was he, Amon-Re, 
who ordered Herihor my lord to send me bearing the god with me. 

54 The Ancient Mariners 

But you, you have kept this great god waiting for twenty-nine 
days!' " After going on in this way for a considerable time, he 
wound up with, "Now let a secretary be summoned and 1*11 send 
him to Nesubanebded and Tanetamon, the rulers whom Amon 
has given to the north of his land, and they will forward all the 
money that is necessary. I will have your men say to them, 'Ad- 
vance the money until I go back again to the south, and I shall 
then have every bit of the debt paid to you/ That," he added, "is 
what I told him." 

This was precisely what Zakar-Baal wanted to hear. He must 
have known through his agents that the envoy had only a nig- 
gardly thirty deb en of silver with him. Now he was being offered 
whatever price he wanted to set on his product. The secretary 
was forthwith dispatched to Egypt, and Zakar-Baal, no doubt with 
most of Wenamon's stolen money in his cashbox as a down pay- 
ment, let him take along several important timbers: the keel, 
sternpost, stempost, and four others. Nesubanebded and Taneta- 
mon did just as the envoy had promised: in forty-eight days the 
secretary returned with a shipment that contained the following 
impressive inventory: 

4 jars and i bowl of gold 

5 jars of silver 

10 garments of royal linen 

10 bolts of good South Egyptian linen 
500 rolls of finished papyrus 
500 cowhides 
500 coils of rope 

20 sacks of lentils 

30 baskets of fish 

There were some items for Wenamon personally too: five gar- 
ments of good South Egyptian linen (he probably needed these 
badly; he had had no idea he was going to be away for better than 
a half-year) , five bolts of good South Egyptian linen, one sack of 
lentils, and five baskets of fish. "The prince rejoiced," notes Wena- 
mon, "and detailed three hundred men and three hundred oxen 
to fell the trees." Eight months after the envoy had left his native 
land, the timber lay on the beach cut and stacked, ready for 

Raiders and Traders 55 

But even then Zakar-Baal had to have a last bit of fun. "You 
know," he told Wenamon, "you are much better off than the mes- 
sengers Khaemwaset sent. My ancestors kept them here for seven- 
teen years and they died here. . . . Here you! [turning to an at- 
tendant] Show him the graves!" This was a little too much. "No," 
was the agonized reply, "please, I don't want to see them." At this 
point, probably to recover his own spirits, the Egyptian launched 
into a long disquisition to the effect that Zakar-Baal will be so 
proud of having done business with Amon and his divine and 
human associates (these being, of course, the sacred image and 
Wenamon) that he will not stop until he has rendered the trans- 
action immortal by erecting a permanent stone monument with 
the whole story inscribed thereon. "That will be just fine," is, in 
effect, Zakar-Baal's reply. 

But nothing was destined to go right for the poor envoy. Just 
when things looked brightest the timber was ready on the beach, 
several payments on account were already in the prince's hands, 
both sides had agreed amicably that the balance would be remitted 
later and Wenamon was on the point of giving orders to load the 
cargo, suddenly eleven ships sailed into the harbor and delivered 
a pregnant message to the palace: "Arrest Wenamon and don't let 
a ship of his leave for Egypt." If the story didn't date six centuries 
before Greek drama was born, we might think we were reading a 
typical Greek tragedy with Fate inevitably swooping down on a 
man at his best moment to exact retribution for wrongs done long 
before. For the ships were manned by Tjeker sea raiders, there 
to demand justice for the thirty deben of silver that had been 
stolen from them almost a year ago. Wenamon who, just a little 
while earlier, had been chattering about seeing his name inscribed 
on an eternal monument, at this point just gave up: he sat down 
on the beach and cried. Apparently he carried on so that even the 
prince became aware of it and sent his secretary down to find out 
what had happened. "How long will I have to stay here?" wailed 
Wenamon, pointing to the ships. "Don't you see that those there 
are coming to arrest me?" He worked himself up into such a state 
that Zakar-Baal himself got a bit worried. After all, a customer 
deserved some consideration. His solution has an incredibly modern 
cast to it: he sent Wenamon a ram, two jars of wine, and an 

56 The Ancient Mariners 

Egyptian dancing girl. (The envoy, scrupulous reporter that he 
is, has saved her name for posterity: Tanetnot.) 

Let us hope that Wenamon relished his mutton and wine and 
had a distracting evening with Tanetnot, because there wasn't much 
enjoyment for him in what he was to go through the next morning. 
Zakar-Baal was on the spot: he didn't want to lose a customer, 
especially one with a balance still due, and at the same time he 
didn't want to get on the wrong side of dangerous neighbors. His 
decision shows the skill we had observed in him before of coming 
up with highly original compromises: "I cannot arrest a messenger 
of Amon in my territory," he told the Tjekers, "but let me send 
him off and then you chase him." In other words, the prince was 
going to discharge his obligations to Wenamon by not turning 
him over to the Tjekers. But he was going to avoid offending the 
latter by sending the envoy off with a bit of a head start to give 
him a sporting chance. Wenamon no doubt had his own ideas 
about the sportingness of the chance a vessel chartered for hauling 
timber had of outrunning a crack squadron of sea raiders. 

The next portion of the narrative is tantalizingly bald. "He 
loaded me on board," Wenamon writes, "he sent me away. The 
wind drove me to the land of Alasia" (Cyprus or the coast of Asia 
Minor to its north) . This wind which took him in a direction 
almost opposite the one he wanted must have been one of the 
southeasterly gales that are common along the Syrian coast. Wena- 
mon probably considered it just another item in the list of tribula- 
tions his god was unaccountably putting him through, but actually 
it very likely proved his salvation: the Tjeker raiders, either be- 
cause their ships were too light or because they figured the gale 
would save them the job, apparently didn't bother to give chase. 

When the vessel landed, unquestionably a good deal the worse 
for wear, a group of natives promptly descended upon it and 
hustled Wenamon off to kill him. Their villages had very likely 
suffered their share of pirate raids and this was looked upon as 
a welcome opportunity to square accounts. At long last, however, 
Wenamon's luck changed. He was brought to the palace of the 
queen and "found her just as she was going from one of her houses 
and entering into another. I greeted her. I asked the people who 
stood around her, 'There must be someone among you who speaks 

Raiders and Traders 57 

Egyptian/ Someone answered, 'I speak it/ I said to him, 'Say to 
your mistress ' " but the speech is unimportant and probably 
represents what, years later at his desk in Thebes, he reckoned he 
ought to have said rather than what a thoroughly soaked and ex- 
hausted and frightened wayfarer actually did say. The important 
point is that the queen listened. "She had the people called and, 
as they stood before her," writes Wenamon, "she said to me, 'Pass 
the night '" and here the papyrus abruptly breaks off. These 
are the last words we have from this extraordinary writer. We don't 
know and very likely never will, unless by a miracle the rest 
of the papyrus is discovered -how he got back home, whether the 
timber arrived safely, or whether Zakar-Baal ever received the 
balance due him. We only know that he did get back, or else the 
report would never have been written. 

Years after Wenamon had returned to Thebes, vessels continued 
to make the run between Syria and Egypt, hauling timber and 
wine from the one in exchange for textiles, papyrus, and hides from 
the other. In Byblus, Zakar-Baal's children must have kept adding 
entries to the ledger their father had so mischievously shown the 
Egyptian envoy. But wherever the legitimate trader was to be 
found, so was the pirate. To the south of Byblus the Tjekers went 
on matter-of-factly pursuing their profession of raiding. The shores 
of Greece, which sent forth the merchantmen that carried among 
other things the distinctive pottery archaeologists constantly turn 
up in excavation after excavation on the Aegean Islands and the 
littoral of western Asia, also launched the plunderers who made 
life miserable for coastal villages the length and breadth of the 
eastern Mediterranean. Eventually, raiding came to outstrip trad- 
ing. The lords of Mycenae and Pylos and other centers in Greece 
sent out only squadrons of pirates and no longer fleets of peaceful 
merchant ships. People moved away from the coasts in terror and 
turned to a new kind of existence inland. By the beginning of the 
first millennium B.C. what trade was left fell into the hands of the 
businessmen par excellence of the ancient world, the Phoenicians. 
But their story belongs to a later age. 


Dawn of 

ONE DAY, SOME THREE thousand years ago, a vessel left the harbor 
of lolcus, on the northeast coast of Greece, where Volo stands today, 
swung its head to the east, and quickly got under way. The world's 
first recorded voyage of overseas exploration had begun. 

The account of this trip is unfortunately not set forth in a matter- 
of-fact ship's log or a diary, something that would leave as little 
room for ambiguity as a radio beam, but in a tradition, half sailor's 
yarn half poetic fancy, that had a leisurely thousand years or more 
in which to work itself up. The very names involved have an uncom- 
fortable vagueness about them. The skipper's name was Jason "the 
healer" and his ship Argo "the swift." These offer no difficulty. But 
the far-off country that Jason made his way to was called Aea, which 
means in Greek nothing more than "land," and its ruler Aeetes, 
"man of the land." The native woman he brought home from there 
was Medea "the cunning one." His son is named Euneus, "good 
man aboard ship," which is almost too apropos. And what can we 
say of woman-headed birds and movable cliffs and a dragon, all of 
which he and his crew, the Argonauts, met en route, or of the prize 
itself that they brought home, a fleece of gold? The task is to distill, 

The Dawn of Maritime Exploration 59 

from a mass of mythological fancy found in Greek poetry that spans 
almost a millennium, the sober details that Jason would have en- 
tered in his log. It's somewhat like having to reconstruct a naval 
diary from the stories of Sinbad the Sailor. 

The legend of the voyage of the Argo goes something like this: 

Jason was a young prince who, like Hamlet, was the victim of an 
unscrupulous uncle: his aged father had been pushed off the throne 
by a brother, Pelias. Since outright murder of the son (the father 
was old enough to be left out of the reckoning) would entail un- 
fortunate political repercussions, Pelias availed himself of a time- 
honored method of getting rid of a popular rival. He set Jason 
the task of finding and bringing home the fabulous golden fleece. 
It's as if Ferdinand and Isabella had dispatched Columbus to 
bring back, on pain of death, the latitude and longitude of El- 

Jason collected a crew to man the 5o-oared galley Argo that 
had been specially built for the voyage, and set a course for 
the east. The vessel sailed swiftly across the Aegean, through the 
Dardanelles and Bosporus and into the Black Sea, encountering 
numerous difficulties, including a brush with the Harpies, creatures 
with bodies of birds and heads of women. Once in the Black Sea 
Jason was in completely unknown waters; like Columbus he could 
only cry "Adelante!" and press unremittingly eastward. At last, 
after a not overly trying voyage, the Argonauts dropped anchor at 
their destination, a country which they called simply Aea, "land," 
but which later Greeks identified with Colchis in the far eastern 
corner of the Black Sea. 

Here they ran into troubles of a different sort Aeetes, the ruler, 
for obvious reasons showed considerable reluctance to surrender 
the fleece and was able to back his reluctance with armed force. 
Moreover, the prize was guarded by a dragon, formidably equipped 
for dealing with intruders, and discouragingly vigilant. In the nick 
of time all problems were settled by a stroke of pure luck: Medea, 
the king's daughter, a handsome girl and skilled sorceress, fell in 
love with Jason and in short order accomplished what no amount 
of Greek muscle and bravery could have. Some time later, just be- 
fore dawn the Argo crept out of the harbor with the fleece and 

5o The Ancient Mariners 

Medea safely aboard. In a few hours Aeetes had launched his navy 
in pursuit. 

The trip back was a nightmare. To elude Aeetes Jason laid out a 
different course home. He lost his way and wandered to the ends of 
the earth. The ship had to undergo the horror of running the 
gantlet of the "wandering rocks," two huge cliffs that, when any- 
thing tried to pass between, drove together swiftly enough to crush 
a bird, to say nothing of an object as slow as a ship. At one point 
the crew had to make a backbreaking portage, pulling the vessel 
overland on rollers for twelve long days. Much time elapsed before 
the Argo finally was run up on the beach in the harbor of lolcus 
and Jason was able to enter the last note in his log. 

The aftermath of the voyage tells more of human emotion than 
of maritime history. Medea again proved invaluable to her lover. 
Her magical recipes were able to restore his aged father to youth 
and to do away with Pelias (she gave the youth-recipe to his daugh- 
ters, simply omitting to tell them of one key ingredient) . But suc- 
cess and fame made Jason ambitious. An opportunity came his way 
to marry the daughter of the ruler of Corinth and ultimately to 
inherit that rich kingdom. Medea rejected his cold-blooded arrange- 
ments for putting her aside and, in a burst of immortal rage, took 
her revenge by slaying not only his fiancee but the two children she 
herself had borne him. Of his great days there was but one thing 
left to Jason and that a mere symbol: the hulk of the Argo, which 
now lay rotting on the beach at lolcus. He returned there to spend 
his days prowling dreamily about it. Even this inanimate object 
turned against him: one day as he lay asleep by it a rotted timber 
fell and killed him. 

So much for what the storytellers and poets made of the voyage of 
Jason and the Argo. What can we make of it? 

We must first guess at the date; poets and spinners of yarns are 
not much interested in strict chronology. When the naval power of 
Crete had been destroyed and that of Mycenae had degenerated 
(p. 31), raiders and rovers swarmed over the eastern Mediter- 
ranean. To this age, the period between 1200 and 1000 B.C., when 
Wenamon was sailing to Lebanon and Homer's pirates were raid- 
ing Egypt, after the time when Crete had yielded the initiative on 
the seas to the Greeks and before the time soon to come when the 

The Dawn of Maritime Exploration 61 

Black Sea would be as familiar to Greek skippers as their own 
Aegean, the tale of Jason and his voyage very likely belongs. There 
is a significant twist in his story that sets him apart from his con- 
temporary sea heroes. Jason was no raider who sallied forth to 
pounce on the first or best available town for plunder. He was the 
leader of a carefully equipped expedition whose express purpose 
was to cross uncharted waters to gain something known only through 
vague hearsay. 

He headed eastward. Why not westward? The golden apples in 
the garden of the Hesperides, which later Greeks located near the 
Strait of Gibraltar, would seem just as fair and tangible a prize as 
a golden fleece. But perhaps not. Later ages knew that the peoples 
who lived at the farther end of the Black Sea where Jason's Aea was 
located had a way of washing gold from a river by tying fleeces in 
the stream so that particles of the dust would adhere to them. It 
was the earliest known form of placer mining. If we assume that 
rumors of this had reached Jason's part of the world, the "search 
for the golden fleece" suddenly comes into focus; it becomes a 
search for treasure, a completely understandable reason for daring 

There was, too, perhaps another reason for heading eastward: ad- 
venture was more quickly come upon. It was a short sail from lolcus 
to the Bosporus, probably little more than a week if that, and once 
that strait had been navigated and his prow was cutting the surface 
of the Black Sea, Jason was where he wanted to be, passing, along 
the north shore of Asia Minor, settlements that belonged to strange 
races. Had he gone west he would have had to slog it out to the 
seas beyond Sicily before striking unknown territory. For, centuries 
earlier, Minoan and Mycenaean ships had sailed this far and all 
the waters up to the straits between Sicily and Tunisia were well 
known (pp. 21-22, 24). 

Jason, then, elected to go east. He could not have had much 
trouble rounding up a capable crew. There must have been an 
ample supply of hard-fisted seamen lounging about the wharves 
of lolcus and nearby ports waiting around to sign on a voyage that 
promised to be interesting and profitable no more trouble prob- 
ably than Lief Ericsson and other Viking leaders were to have 
millennia later in gathering crews for their epoch-making ventures 

6s The Ancient Mariners 

westward. Later Greek tradition has it that the Argonauts were an 
all-star team, that Heracles and Theseus and Orpheus and others 
from the galaxy of Greek heroes went along, but this is poetic 
embroidery. Jason's expedition was successful, which meant he had 
a complement of obedient able-bodied seamen and not a collection 
of prima donnas. Rowing a galley was a complicated technique that 
demanded training and coordination; none of the twelve famous 
labors of Heracles involved pulling an oar. The oldest versions 
of the legend imply that Jason used only the leaders from his own 
neighborhood, and this must surely be right. 

The Ar go coasted along the north shore of Asia Minor and met 
the usual problem that confronted a strange ship in those days: 
attacks by natives wherever it tried to put in for the night or for 
provisions. For the Argo could not stay at sea any length of time. 
Roomy merchantmen that could were being built in this age, but 
the Argo was not one of these. Jason wisely chose a fighting ship for 
his expedition, one which would not be so completely dependent 
upon the winds as would a sailing freighter and which could either 
withstand or run away from attack. His vessel could not have been 
very different from those used in the war against Troy: a slender ship 
mounting twenty-five rowers on a side, with a sail and mast that 
could be easily and quickly unstepped (pp. 36-38). When travel- 
ing without a break night and day, the crew slept at their oars and 
there was little room for provisions. Frequent stopovers had to be 
included in the itinerary. 

One of the more unusual encounters on the outward leg of the 
voyage, according to later legend, was a set-to with the Harpies, 
creatures who, as drawn in Greek art, have the bodies of birds and 
the heads of women. They somewhat resemble winged sphinxes, a 
fact that may account for their presence in Jason's story. Archaeolo- 
gists have discovered that the winged sphinx is a form that origi- 
nated and is commonly found in Asia Minor. It occurs in Hittite 
sculpture, for example. Can the Harpy be the poetic end result of 
what started as a description by one of Jason's sailors of a picture 
or bas-relief he had seen somewhere during this trip along the north 
coast of Asia Minor? 

The voyage out was nothing compared with the return, both 
from Jason's point of view and from that of the historian who tries 

The Dawn of Maritime Exploration 63 

to track down the nuggets of fact behind the vagaries of tradition. 
One thing is clear: the Argo did not return the way it came. To avoid 
pursuit Jason charted a different course and this is where the 
trouble begins. The various versions of the legend bring him home 
by different routes, each more fanciful than the next. One actually 
has it that the crew carried the ship all across Europe, launched it 
in the North Sea, and sailed it back around Spain and through the 
Strait of Gibraltar. The poet Pindar, who, writing in the fifth cen- 
tury B.C., is, except for Homer, the earliest author to describe the 
journey, takes the ship to the western Mediterranean and the shores 
of Libya before getting it back safely to Greece but Pindar's 
virtuosity lies in his glorious imagination, not his historical ac- 
curacy. Sophocles, that most level-headed of dramatists, happens 
in a certain passage to drop the incidental remark that the Argo- 
nauts sailed out along the south coast of the Black Sea and back 
along the north. This makes complete sense, just how complete we 
shall see in a moment. 

If Jason was to return by a different route he had but two alterna- 
tives: either to strike boldly across the open sea and follow a straight 
line from Colchis to the Bosporus, or else to coast along the northern 
shore. He could hardly have hesitated in making up his mind: an 
extended sail through open waters in the face of oncoming winter 
(if he left lolcus at the very opening of the sailing season, the 
beginning of spring see p. 39 , the time spent in the voyage out 
and at Aea must still have used up most of the summer) was out of 
the question. Even had his course lain across familiar waters instead 
of completely new ones, a cramped open galley wasn't the ship for 
this sort of routing. The Argonauts must have done it the slow way, 
groping timidly along the strange coast of south Russia. And as they 
worked farther and farther north, and winter overtook them, they 
must have inevitably run into a phenomenon completely out of 
their ken ice. 

It was during this leg of the voyage, the legend has it, that the 
Argo encountered its most nerve-racking adventure, the passage 
through the "wandering rocks." These became famous in Greek 
mythology. Homer has Circe carefully brief Odysseus about them 
when he was taking off on a course that took him into waters the 
Argo had passed through. And well she might. Storms and high 

64 The Ancient Mariners 

winds and shoals or the like were nothing new to Mediterranean 
sailors. But what must have amazed the Argonauts, or Odysseus, or 
any other son of Greece who knew only her mild equable climate, 
were the ice floes off the wintry South Russian shores. A blow from 
one could easily leave a ship like the Argo a mass of splintered 
wreckage. The high point of Jason's report must surely have been 
his description of these monstrous formations that floated about 
so dangerously that only a master hand on the helm could bring 
a ship safely through them and then only with luck. The details 
would become more lurid with each telling, and it should not have 
taken many generations for the floes to have become Homer's 
"precipitous cliffs against which the giant swell of Amphitrite 
breaks with a shattering roar." 

What of the grueling portage of twelve days' duration? On the 
north shores of the Black Sea, the peninsula of the Crimea thrusts 
downward for some one hundred miles, marking off the Sea of 
Azov on the east. The Argonauts, following the coast line, would 
automatically wander into this body of water and find themselves 
in an icy cul-de-sac. We can easily imagine that a portage across the 
neck of the peninsula to the open water on the west, despite its 
obvious hardships, would look to them far preferable to fighting 
their way south through the floes of the Sea of Azov, running once 
again the gantlet of the "wandering rocks." 

Mankind likes to treasure the names of the men who do things 
first, who invent or discover, to the point where we even insist on 
teaching them to our children. Whatever the reasons for which the 
Argo made its journey whether for gold as I have suggested, 
whether for commerce with the fleece symbolizing the golden grain 
of the Crimea that was to become so important later in the Greek 
economy, whether, as the mythologists suggest, Jason "the healer" 
traveled east toward the dawn in search of the golden clouds that 
would "heal" the parchedness of his arid homeland Jason's name 
must be added to the list. The expedition he headed was the first 
we know of that sailed forth to explore new lands. There were, to 
be sure, maritime explorers of earlier date than he. Cretan skippers, 
as we have seen, had made their way westward and travelled the 
waters up to Sicily centuries before the Argo set sail. But their names 

The Dawn of Maritime Exploration 65 

have been lost; they have left merely a dim spoor of potsherds which 
only archaeologists can follow. History in its wayward fashion has 
preserved the name of Jason. We don't know who next duplicated 
his feat, since the second person to do or find something is rarely 
remembered; but a second there surely was and a third and so on 
until it was a long process and took a number of centuries this 
once mysterious body of water became in effect a Greek lake. The 
earlier navigators called the Black Sea the Pontos Axeinos, the "un- 
friendly sea." They soon changed it to Euxeinos, "friendly" sea. 

Westward Ho! 

THERE WAS A TIME when sailors, leaving behind the seas they knew, 
turned their prows toward the west, into uncharted waters, and 
stumbled upon a new world. The effect was electrifying. Nations 
rushed men to explore and colonize the new territories, freighters 
to trade with them, and warships to settle disputes. History in a way 
was only repeating itself when the Portuguese opened up Africa, 
and Spain, America. The first great age of discovery and coloniza- 
tion took place almost two and a half millennia earlier, and the 
principal roles were played by the Greeks and the Phoenicians. 

There was a great upheaval in the eastern Mediterranean in the 
time between 1200 and 1000 B.C. The Greeks of this age ceased to 
be the wide-ranging traders they once had been. Their cities were 
now not so secure that they could unconcernedly go off on dis- 
tant raiding expeditions as in the past. Immigrants from the north, 
spilling down the peninsula, forced them to turn their attention to 
defending their own homes. Those who still took to the sea were 
primarily sea rovers, but there were many other peoples, like 
Wenamon's Tjekers, to give them stiff competition in this profe& 

Westward Ho! 67 

sion. The story of all this is written only in the archaeological 
record, but it is none the less dear. In the excavations of Greek 
cities of this age and of the points with which they used to trade, 
fragments of the pottery once found there in such profusion grad- 
ually grow less and less until, by about 1100 B.C., they disappear. 
Not until several centuries later does Greek pottery show itself 
again, and this time it is of a different type, belonging to Greeks 
of a later age, distinct from the Mycenaeans. 

Here was a perfect opportunity for an enterprising maritime na- 
tion, and there happened to be one such available to seize it with 
alacrity. The Phoenicians had always been keen and active traders 
as far back as the days when they sold boatloads of Lebanese cedar 
to Snefru of Egypt (p. 4). Their geographical location was perfect. 
From their big cities of Tyre and Sidon main roads led into the 
hinterland and beyond, connecting eventually with India, and 
brought to their warehouses the luxury products of the eastern 
caravan trade. Just south lay Egypt with its own connections with 
Arabia and Somaliland (pp. 9-13). No other nation was as ideally 
located as they to serve as middleman in the distribution of wares 
from all these quarters. But now they could go one step further and 
expand to take up the slack left by the withdrawal of the Myce- 

It is hard to tell much in detail about the Phoenicians. Even their 
name is a puzzle. They called themselves Sidonians, from the city 
that was their greatest center until Tyre outstripped it about the 
beginning of the first millennium B.C., and their land Canaan. It 
was the Greeks who named them Phoinikes, which some linguists 
think comes from a root meaning "sea" but which most connect 
with the adjective phoinos, "dark red." The Phoenicians made a 
specialty of dyeing textiles, using certain species of a sea snail, 
Murex, that has a glandular secretion which produces various shades 
of red and purple. (There are actual hills outside of Tyre and Sidon 
today, made up from top to bottom of the shells of these creatures 
discarded by the ancient dye factories.) To their Greek customers 
the Phoenicians probably seemed principally textile traders, "red 
(-garment) " men. They were businessmen first and foremost, pro- 
duced no poets or historians to chronicle their accomplishments for 
posterity and their business ledgers have gone the way of all such 

68 The Ancient Mariners 

objects. Moreover, being more interested in profits than in publicity, 
they kept their trade secrets to themselves; they even spread false- 
hoods to discourage possible competitors. The story is told that 
once, when a Phoenician merchant was being tailed by a foreign 
skipper anxious to discover the source of certain trade items, he 
deliberately ran his ship on the rocks to prevent it. In honor of 
this heroic act in behalf of the national income, the government 
rewarded him not with anything trivial like a statue or monument 
but with reimbursement in toto for all loss sustained. 

They were sharp traders. The only romantic Phoenician ever 
mentioned is Dido, the queen who committed suicide after an un- 
happy love affair with Aeneas, and even she was a canny hand at 
driving a bargain. The story goes that, when she was founding the 
city of Carthage, she made a deal with the natives on the site to 
pay them an annual rent for as much land as a bull's hide could 
cover. She then skived a hide and managed to encircle with the 
pieces enough ground for an imposing city. The Dutch another 
nation which needed no lessons in trading hardly did better when 
they bought Manhattan Island for twenty-four dollars' worth of 
trinkets. The Phoenicians even perfected ways of handling barter 
with natives whose language they couldn't understand. Herodotus, 
the inquisitive Greek of the fifth century B.C., who is called the 
Father of History but who could just as appropriately be called 
Father of the Travelogue, had a keen eye for a good story, and re- 
ported that the Phoenician colonists of Carthage would arrive at 
a native village and 

unload their wares and lay them out along the beach. Then they would 
go back aboard their ships and raise a smoke signal. The natives, seeing 
the smoke, would come down to the shore, lay out the amount of gold 
they figured the goods were worth, and draw back some paces from them. 
Then the Carthaginians would come ashore and take a look. If it was 
enough, they took it and left; if not, they went back aboard ship and 
waited patiently. Then the natives would approach and keep adding to 
their gold until the sellers were satisfied. 

The reputation for honesty they had, judging by this story, among 
savages was not always maintained among other customers. Their 
merchants were always ready to pick up extra money in shady trans- 
actions, especially in the slave traffic. Odysseus' swineherd, for ex- 

Westward Ho! 69 

ample, born a free Greek, had been kidnaped and sold on the block 
by a crew that had originally dropped in at his island for legitimate 

The Phoenicians were involved in some celebrated business deals. 
When King Solomon was about to proceed with the building of his 
great temple about 970 B.C. and needed timber, he naturally turned 
to Phoenicia with its well-known Lebanese cedar and negotiated a 
contract. He wrote to Hiram who was king of the great export 
center of Tyre at the time: 

Now therefore command thou that they hew me cedar trees out of 
Lebanon; and my servants shall be with thy servants: and unto thee will 
I give hire for thy servants according to all that thou shall appoint: for 
thou knowest that there is not among us any that can skill to hew timber 
like unto the Sidonians. . . . 

And Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, I have considered the things which 
thou sentest to me for: and I will do all thy desire concerning timber of 
cedar, and concerning timber of fir. 

My servants shall bring them down from Lebanon unto the sea: and I 
will convey them by sea in floats unto the place that thou shall appoint 
me, and will cause them to be discharged there, and thou shalt receive 
them: and thou shalt accomplish my desire in giving food for my house- 

So Hiram gave Solomon cedar trees and fir trees according to all his 

And Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat for food 
to his household, and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave Solomon to 
Hiram year by year. 

In the days before money was invented, a buyer had the choice 
of paying in uncoined precious metal, or of bartering. It was be- 
cause Solomon had no access to gold he had been forced to ex- 
change Palestinian wheat and oil for his timber that he entered 
into his next business operation with the Phoenicians. 

For centuries the inhabitants of the northern end of the Persian 
Gulf had been trading with India and Arabia and Africa (pp. 5-9). 
The products involved were for the most part luxuries: ivory, silks, 
and spices from India; ivory and gold from Africa; incense and per- 
fumes from Arabia. The profits were correspondingly large. Solo- 
mon, though he controlled a port on the appropriate waters in Ezion 
Geber at the southern end of the Negeb, ruled a nation that had no 

^o The Ancient Mariners 

merchant marine or, for that matter, no experience with the sea at 
all, and was consequently in the exasperating position o seeing all 
this lucrative trade bypass him. What arrived at the Persian Gulf 
was transported for Mediterranean distribution by caravan to the 
Phoenician ports, especially Tyre; what came to Egypt was floated 
downriver to the mouth of the Nile and carried from there in 
Phoenician bottoms. Even the Phoenicians, though most of the trade 
in one way or another passed through their hands, were not com- 
pletely satisfied: they had to share the profits with caravaneers in 
the one case or Egyptian middlemen in the other. So when Solomon 
conceived the idea of building a fleet of his own which, working 
out of Ezion Geber, could trade with Ophir, that is, India, and of 
manning it with Phoenician sailors, Hiram didn't have to be asked 

And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Ezion-geber, which is beside 
Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom. 

And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge 
of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. 

And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred 
and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon. 

From Egypt in the south to Asia Minor in the north and west- 
ward to Cyprus, Rhodes, and Crete, Phoenicia had practically a 
monopoly over the trade routes for the three centuries between 1100 
and 800 B.C. It must have been some time during this period no 
one can date it exactly that she passed along to the Greeks one 
of the greatest gifts that the East was to give to the West. The Phoe- 
nicians, unlike their neighbors who wrote in clumsy hieroglyphs or 
cuneiform, used an alphabetic system of writing that some Semitic 
tribe had invented, probably centuries earlier. In the course of 
trading operations, most likely in the lower Aegean area, some of 
their merchants brought it to the attention of Greeks, who im- 
mediately recognized its superlative convenience and swiftly adapted 
it for writing their language. Subsequently they in turn gave it to 
the Romans who passed it on to the Western World. In this trans- 
fer the Phoenicians were not creators but middlemen. Their second 
great contribution was one which they conceived and carried out 
completely by themselves. 

Even in the great days of Minoan and Mycenaean expansion (pp. 

Westward Ho! 71 

21-22, 24) the western limit of the ancient world had been Sicily and 
Sardinia. Beyond this lay uncharted seas and terra incognita. Some 
time later ancient historians have it 1100 B.C., but it was more 
likely at least a century or more afterward daring Phoenician 
sailors took the plunge and headed their prows into the waters 
beyond. Within a short time they had put the stamp of success on 
their venture by planting an outpost, the colony of Utica in north 
Africa, not far from Tunis of today. Phoenicia never did anything 
for the sheer adventure in it; something must have drawn her in- 
terest in this direction. Judging by what happened next, it looks 
as if her sailors had picked up rumors that there were lands farther 
west where they might find silver and, still more interesting, tin, a 
mineral in short supply in the eastern Mediterranean and of vital 
importance because, fused with copper, it forms bronze. For they 
are next reported sailing even beyond Gibraltar into the Atlantic to 
trade with Tartessus, as the coast of Spain just outside the strait was 
called. Here the natives mined silver locally; but, even more im- 
portant, to this place tin was brought by local carriers along the 
Atlantic coast of Spain. It came from regions farther north and so 
far out of the ken of the Mediterranean mariner that he long knew 
them only vaguely as the "Tin Isles"; the best guess is that the 
source was Cornwall in England. Between 900 and 800 B.C. the new- 
comers set themselves up permanently by establishing on a fine 
harbor beyond the strait the key center of Gadir, or Cadiz as we 
call it now. 

This was the first great line of travel the Phoenicians laid down: 
from Tyre to Utica to Cadiz. Climate and current dictated the 
next step. The western Mediterranean is swept by northwest winds 
during the summer months which made up the ancient mariner's 
chief period of activity* To sail westward along the North African 
coast from the colony of Utica was to risk a lee shore and buck a 
a hostile current in the bargain. By working to the north at the out- 
set, and following a general southwesterly slant from there to the 
strait and using the African shore only for the homeward leg, Phoe- 
nician skippers assured themselves favorable wind and current for 
the round trip. And so they planted way stations at strategic points: 
on Sardinia for that first leg northward, on Ibiza and the Spanish 
Mediterranean coast for the long slant to the strait, and in the neigh- 

72 The Ancient Mariners 

borhood of Algiers or Oran for the homeward lap. No details about 
any part of this striking achievement are known. The Phoenicians 
wanted no competitors and they not only were tight-lipped about 
what they were doing but even surrounded it with an effective 
smokescreen of sailors' yarns no doubt filled with hair-raising de- 
tails of shipwrecks and sea monsters. 

About 800 B.C., Tyre founded the colony of Carthage a little 
south of Utica. This is the expedition which, according to tradition, 
Queen Dido headed. The new settlement, quickly overtaking Utica, 
became the center of operations in the west. It carried out a pro- 
gram of colonization on its own, sending out expeditions to explore 
and occupy new sites and to convert former way stations into full- 
sized communities. By 700 B.C. Carthage had moved into Sardinia, 
had founded several colonies in Sicily, including Palermo with its 
fine natural harbor, and had planted Milaga plus a few other towns 
on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. This took care of the new ter- 
ritory to the west, but there was still the link to the homeland far in 
the east to think about. So Carthage occupied Pantelleria and Malta 
which, combined with Phoenician settlements that had long been 
established on Crete and Rhodes and Cyprus, gave her a set of 
convenient steppingstones back to the home port of Tyre. 

Her work was now complete. The west was fully open but to 
Phoenicia alone. Through a wide-flung network of stations, the 
trade in tin from the Atlantic coast and in silver and lead and iron 
from Spain was firmly in her hands. She had become one of the great 
powers of the ancient world. But over three centuries had now 
passed since the Phoenicians had discovered this new world, and 
another great nation had entered on a career of colonization. Com- 
petition lay just over the horizon. 

While Phoenicia was sailing the eastern and western seas with 
a completely free hand, the waves of immigrants that had swept over 
Greece and helped to finish off the great commercial activity of the 
Mycenaean Age (p. 66) finally came to an end. By 800 B.C. Greece 
had by and large taken the shape it was to have in its heyday three 
centuries later. It was a conglomeration of independent cities that 
dotted not only the original peninsula but also the Aegean Islands 
and Crete and Cyprus and, above all, the western coast of Asia 

Westward Ho! 73 

Minor. Their vessels, merchantmen and warships, once again plied 
the sea in numbers. The time was ripe for Greece to embark on its 
own program of colonization. 

The Phoenicians had picked out a limited number of com- 
mercially advantageous sites and exploited them for trade; their 
impress was only skin deep. The Greeks, between 750 and 550 B.C V 
in a series of concerted bursts of activity, settled themselves the 
length and breadth of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, "like 
frogs on a pond/' as Plato put it. They founded in the neighborhood 
of 250 colonies, a number of which have had a continuous existence 
ever since. In a way it was like administering injections of Greek 
culture into the body of barbarism at 250 points. Most of them took, 
whether the recipients were Scyths on the shores of South Russia, 
Italians in South Italy, or Gauls at the mouth of the Rhone. In a 
very real sense, the boatloads of Greek emigrants that crossed the 
seas in those two centuries were the advance guard of Western 

Like the Phoenicians, Greek colonists usually picked sites for 
hardfisted commercial reasons. When they settled Syracuse in 733 
B.C. or the site of Istanbul in 658, they took over two harbors that 
were among the very best in the Mediterranean and that were ide- 
ally located for trade. But the people who joined in the founding 
expeditions were not all merchants or sailors. Often they were pov- 
erty-stricken peasants the soil of Greece is so poor that the threat 
of overpopulation has dogged the country during almost the whole 
of its existence who went out to the colonies in much the same 
spirit as the south Italians and Sicilians who flocked to America at 
the beginning of this century. Sometimes they were political exiles 
from their home; there were even cases when out-of-power parties 
would quit en masse and join a group leaving to found some new 
city overseas. Rhegium is a good example of the mixed motives that 
lay behind a Greek colony. It was planted in a perfect position to 
command the trade that passed through the Strait of Messina be- 
tween Sicily and the mainland; yet its founders included one-tenth 
of the population of the Greek city of Chalcis who were bidden 
to leave because of famine, as well as a band of political exiles from 
south Greece. Many men must have signed on simply for the ride, 
for the sheer adventure of it. The Greeks were wanderers at heart 

74 The Ancient Mariners 

it was no accident that the story of Odysseus was one of their na- 
tional epics and they were to be found knocking about odd corners 
of the ancient world at all times. For such roving spirits the age 
of colonization must have offered unparalleled opportunities. 

In some foundations commerce played no part whatsoever. Many 
of the little colonies that lined the sole and instep of the boot of 
Italy were agricultural communities purely and simply; the found- 
ers had left the old country because of hard times to build homes 
in a new territory that was a land of milk and honey by comparison. 
Occasionally a city literally transplanted itself because life had 
become unbearable, generally for political reasons, in the old site. 
The people of the little town of Teos, for example, on the Asia 
Minor coast couldn't stand the thought of living under Persia, a 
mighty empire that was aggressively extending its way westward; 
and when that threat appeared the whole populace moved and 
established itself on the coast of Thrace. Tarentum Taranto to- 
day was founded as a refuge for a group of political exiles from 
Sparta. It was the only permanent colony that that ultraconservative 
city planted, and one of the stories about the Spartans that went 
the rounds in ancient days offered an interesting reason. Toward 
the end of the seventh century B.C. the Spartans left for a war that 
took them twenty years to win. When they returned they found 
and viewed with considerable disfavor a group of almost full- 
grown children, obviously born during these two decades. After 
some complications these "sons of virgins," as they were called, 
since they were a little too public proof of the dilution of the pure 
blood the Spartans were so proud of, were packed off in a group to 
continue their lives elsewhere, and the founding of Tarentum was 
the result. 

There is a good deal known about the way in which the Greeks 
went about founding a colony. The initiative always came from a 
particular city, although outsiders, as long as they were Greek, 
could and very often were encouraged to participate. A smallish 
town like Megara, for example, which was responsible for an in- 
credible number of settlements, would have completely drained off 
its population without help from outside. The first step was to 
appoint an "oetist" or founder to lead the expedition. Since he 
played the major role, he was often worshiped in the colony he sue- 

Westward Ho! 75 

ceeded in planting. Even when all details about the founding of a 
given place were lost, the oecist's name lived on; they were the Wil- 
liam Penns and Roger Williamses of their age. The oecist's first step 
was to consult the famous oracle of Apollo at Delphi about a site 
to colonize. Usually the priests of the shrine had got intelligence 
of the desired location or locations and simply went ahead and con- 
firmed one or the other, provided no conflicts were involved. The 
Delphic Oracle performed a vital function in this period: it was the 
priests' job to see that clashes were avoided by, among other things, 
diverting colonies that looked as if they would encroach on pre- 
viously established foundations, and on the whole they did their 
work well. Their role was rather like that played by the Vatican 
when, at the end of the fifteenth century, it headed off a possible 
ugly situation by allocating Africa to the Portuguese and America to 
the Spanish. 

All the next steps are lost. No ancient writer ever bothered to 
tell how the ships were collected, what they were like, how they were 
loaded, or how the oecist managed to keep his sanity during a 
voyage, often lasting over a month, in which he had to oversee men, 
women, and children and assorted livestock who were leaving 
all the certainties of a traditional homeland for the most uncertain 
of futures. The only hint of detail saved through the centuries is 
the random mention of a colonist who, en route to found Syracuse, 
swapped his allotment of land for a home-made cake; whether be- 
cause he was that hungry or that drunk or that homesick for some- 
thing from the past is not divulged. 

The colonists as a rule were spared the rigors and dangers of 
landing on an unknown shore. Sailors and traders had long before 
scouted the site, determined the number and state of mind of the 
natives, and forwarded reports to the founding city (some of which 
no doubt found their way into the files at Delphi) , and the area 
had even been apportioned into lots for distribution. Sometimes 
the natives welcomed the newcomers. When the group that founded 
Marseilles landed, so the story goes, they were invited to a native 
bridal ceremony where the chief's daughter, in accordance with 
immemorial custom, was to go the rounds and hand a cup of water 
to the one among the young braves she wanted to marry. With an 
unerring eye, in the best Pocahontas tradition, she picked the newly 

76 The Ancient Mariners 

arrived oecist. Not such charming anecdotes but the sober records 
of archaeology show that more often than not the Greeks drove 
the natives out. In most of the cemeteries of the colonies in Sicily 
and south Italy, for example, the early graves are almost all of 
Greeks; no native tombs are found there any more than they are in 
early New England. Sometimes, as was to be expected, whole 
colonies were lost as completely as Sir Walter Raleigh's ill-starred 
settlement on Roanoke Island. It took three tries to found Abdera 
on the Thracian coast; the natives wiped out the first two expedi- 
tions and the third only took hold because the entire population of 
a Greek city decided to emigrate there to escape Persian bondage. 

The only allegiance a colony owed its "metropolis," its "mother- 
city" as the Greeks put it, was sentimental: the fire on the sacred 
hearth of the new foundation was kindled with flame taken from 
the hearth at home; familiar place names were applied to the new 
environment like the "New England," "New York" or "New Lon- 
don" of American colonial days. If, as often happened, the daugh- 
ter decided to send out a colonizing party on her own, she would 
give the metropolis the privilege of supplying an oecist, and if the 
mother city got involved in a war the daughters usually could be 
depended upon to support her. 

Practically every established Greek city took part in the move- 
ment overseas to some extent and boasted one or more colonial off- 
spring. But there were two key figures, particularly from the point 
of view of commercial expansion. The one, Corinth, concentrated 
her attention on the west, the other, Miletus, on the east. 

Eastward of the Mediterranean lay the Black Sea. It was outside 
the orbit of the Greeks, and their ships had not cut its waters since 
the pioneering voyage of Jason and his Argonauts. A formidable 
pair of gates barred it, the straits of the Dardanelles and the Bos- 
porus. During the summer months, the greatest period of activity 
for the ancient mariner (p. 39), a ship going through had to sail 
almost into the eye of prevailing northeasterlies and buck a current 
which spilled out of the sea beyond like a millrace. Yet once 
through, not only was the sailing clear but the returns were sub- 
stantial. On the north shore the rich fields of the Crimea produced 
surpluses of wheat which could be sold at good prices in the grain- 

Westward Ho! 77 

poor cities of Greece; the shallow waters teemed with fish; and on 
the south coast there were gold and silver and iron to be mined. 

On the lower part of the west coast of Asia Minor, less than two 
hundred miles from the Dardanelles, stood the city of Miletus. It 
is a pile of ruins now; the harbor has silted up and the focus of 
trade moved elsewhere so completely that today the whole region 
is a backwater and the sightseer has to fight his way for days over 
battered roads to get a view of the deserted site. But in the eighth 
century B.C. and long thereafter it was a great commercial center. 
Its merchants sent their ships southeast to Phoenicia, south to 
Egypt, and west to Italy, and enticed caravans with products of the 
Asia Minor hinterland and beyond to their warehouses. Its sheep 
breeders developed a prize quality of wool that commanded a 
market everywhere and its cabinetmakers were known for the fine 
furniture they turned out. The city, by mingling its native Greek 
culture with the rich foreign influences that rode in on its far-flung 
trade, acquired a reputation for intellectual distinction as well. Two 
of its natives haunted the bustling quays, listened to the reports 
of returning sailors who had scouted sites or founded colonies or 
sailed on trading voyages, and, collating this material, launched 
the twin sciences of cartography and geography: Anaximander of 
Miletus around 550 B.C. drew up the first map of the inhabited por- 
tion of the earth; half a century later, Hecataeus of Miletus pub- 
lished an improved version along with the first work of geography, 
a book (now lost) entitled Circuit of the Earth which described 
the known world from Sparta to India. Thales, the first and one of 
the greatest of the Greek scientific philosophers, was a native, 
and along with his fundamental work on the nature of the uni- 
verse found time, like a good Milesian, to work out a geometrical' 
procedure for determining the position of a ship at sea and even, 
one year, to make a financial killing by cornering the olive-press 

It was the skilled mariners of Miletus who found the key that 
unlocked the doors of the Black Sea. They discovered that favorable 
southwesterlies were to be picked up along the Dardanelles and 
Bosporus during the early weeks of the spring, that the hostile 
current created favorable eddies along the shores, and that even in 
summer a ship could go through on the night breeze that blew up 

78 The Ancient Mariners 

the straits. By 800 B.C. Miletus had planted a colony on the south 
shore of the Black Sea and within two centuries or so her establish- 
ments tradition says eighty of them dotted its circuit as well as 
the coasts of the straits and of the Sea of Marmora. For some rea- 
son she overlooked the site of Istanbul with its superb harbor, the 
famous "Golden Horn," perfectly located on the European side of 
the Bosporus, and left it for the little town of Megara to plant a 
colony called Byzantium there. Even Megara needed two chances, 
for the first colonists she sent out passed up the site and settled on 
the Asiatic shore opposite instead; this so exasperated the priests 
of the Delphic Oracle that, when a second expedition was readied 
seventeen years later, they waspishly instructed the oecist to settle 
opposite the city "of the blind." But the Black Sea was almost a 
Milesian lake; the tons of wheat and fish shipped out annually 
were financed by the traders and bankers, and hauled by the 
skippers, of Miletus and her colonies. To make things perfect, her 
ships did not have to return in ballast. They arrived loaded with 
Greek pottery and bronze manufactures which had a ready sale 
among the natives, as well as with wine and olive oil for the Greek 
colonists of the north shore who never acquired a taste for the local 
beverages or learned to cook with the local butter and were eager 
customers for these reminders of life in the old country. 

The city of Corinth had a unique location. It commanded the 
isthmus that separates the northern portion of Greece from the 
Peloponnese. Its ships could take off from a harbor on the east of 
the isthmus into the Aegean and, from one on the opposite shore, 
could proceed straight through the Corinthian Gulf to the west; 
every other Greek city had to send its freighters the long way 
around the Peloponnese to get to the west. 

In the days of the Minoans and the Mycenaeans (pp. 21-22, 24), 
colonies had once flourished on the shores of Sicily and south Italy. 
But they had long since died away and now, a half millennium 
later, uncivilized tribes inhabited the areas, while north of Naples 
the peninsula of Italy was controlled by a powerful and warlike 
people called the Etruscans. The first Greek ships that in this age 
sailed through the strait between Sicily and the mainland and 
entered the Tyrrhenian Sea quickly discovered two things: that the 
Etruscans held the waters from this point northward, and that they 

Westward Ho! 79 

would buy practically any Greek manufactures offered them. And 
so it was natural that the first settlement in this new Greek pene- 
tration into the west, founded probably about 750 B.C., was on the 
little island of Ischia off Naples, a strategic location for an entrepdt 
to serve Greek and Etruscan. Within twenty years Corinth had 
entered the field: in 733 she planted the colony of Syracuse on the 
site of one of the finest harbors in the eastern Mediterranean. In 
the next few decades a dozen towns sprang up along the coasts of 
Sicily and south Italy, but Syracuse's position and her harbor, 
backed up by Corinth's trade, guaranteed her preeminence. In the 
earliest finds on all these sites archaeologists have uncovered the 
products of various Greek states; within a generation, the finds are 
prevailingly Corinthian. A monopoly had begun that was to last 
for a century. 

Other cities had established colonies on both sides of the Strait 
of Messina. Corinth negotiated treaties to give her right of way 
and, with Syracuse recognized as the distribution point for most 
products from Greece, her trading position was set. But only in the 
east of the island. When the Carthaginians decided to move into 
Sicily (p. 72), finding the whole eastern part firmly in Greek 
hands, they laid hold of the west. The Greek colony nearest them, 
one established by Rhodes and called Selinus, as a result of its 
location was always in a tight spot. It traded with its Carthaginian 
neighbors as well as with their home base on the African coast 
opposite and, when Greeks and Carthaginians eventually came to 
blows, it could never be trusted to put sentiment before business. 

Corinthian ships arrived loaded with fine pottery, oil and per- 
fume, Egyptian work such as faience, amulets and scarabs, and 
heavy loads of marble (the local rock was too soft for first-rate 
building stone) . What wasn't distributed from Syracuse to east 
Sicily continued through the strait to the Naples area for sale to 
the Etruscans. The latter paid for their imports in refined metals, 
while Sicily paid in the product so all-important to the Greek econ- 
omy, wheat. Around 600 B.C. Corinth's trade was so great that she 
found herself faced with a real problem: her superb location on an 
isthmus, which made commerce in both directions possible, also 
forced her to maintain duplicate navies and merchant marines on 
the eastern side a fleet of freighters to carry, and of warships to 

8o The Ancient Mariners 

guard, the trade with Asia Minor and Syria and Egypt, and on the 
western side another for that with Sicily and south Italy. Periander, 
who was on the throne at the time, toyed with the idea of cutting 
a canal but gave it up as too big a project (one wasn't actually 
attempted until the time of Nero, who had the vast resources of 
the whole Roman Empire at his disposal; see p. 226). Periander 
did the next best thing: he built an ancient version of a marine 
railway over three miles long. It was a road, carefully paved with 
limestone slabs and so engineered that all grades were held to a 
minimum, which spanned the isthmus; vessels were hauled out of 
the water at one end, rolled onto a wheeled trolley which ran in 
tracks cut in the stone surface, pulled probably by oxen to the 
other side, and there set afloat again. The road was wide enough, 
and the power available strong enough, to handle all warships and 
ordinary sized freighters; and it provided a quick way of transfer- 
ing the cargoes of ships too heavy to be hauled out. It must have 
been tremendously costly, but this was the heyday of the city's pros- 
perity and she had the money to pay for it. 

About 550 B.C. Corinth began to lose her tight monopoly in 
Sicily and south Italy. From this point on, Athenian and not Cor- 
inthian pottery prevails in the archaeological excavations. It was 
just about this time, too, that the Sicilian cities began to coin their 
own money. Barter was all right for the strict exchange of wheat 
for Corinth's manufactures, but money gave a town more latitude 
in its choice of commercial contacts. The versatile Corinthian mer- 
chants shrewdly met the changed conditions: they sold the cities the 
silver needed for coinage and they supplied Athens with bottoms 
to haul its newly acquired trade in pottery. 

Beyond Sicily lay the far west, a vast and vital area that the 
Phoenicians had turned into their private preserve. If a story that 
Herodotus tells can be believed, it was a sheer fluke that first 
brought the Greeks into this quarter and opened their eyes to its 
value. A certain Colaeus, skipper of a vessel from Samos, an island 
off the west coast of Asia Minor, on one occasion had particularly 
bad luck with the winds. Headed for Egypt, sometime about 650 
B.C., he was first blown off course and forced to land far to the west 
of his destination at Gyrene on the north African coast, a little 
west of where Derna now stands. He took on fresh provisions, 

Westward Ho! 81 

raised anchor, shaped a course once more for Egypt and this time 
was caught in an easterly gale, probably the same sort that seven 
hundred years later was to carry St. Paul from Crete to shipwreck 
off Malta. Colaeus scudded before it the whole length of the sea 
and even through the Strait of Gibraltar, and finally reached land 
in Tartessus, the Spanish coast just beyond the strait, whose natives 
had never seen Greek products, much less Greeks. He was able to 
turn in his cargo, probably chiefly Samian pottery and wine, for a 
fabulous amount of silver and returned home a multimillionaire. 

It was neither his home port on Samos nor any of the other great 
commercial centers of Greece that capitalized on his discovery, but 
a relatively small Greek town whose sailors had a reputation for 
skill and daring even in this age of maritime enterprise. The city 
of Phocaea stood on the west coast of Asia Minor, the easternmost 
edge of Greek civilization. But it was to play in the far west the 
role that Corinth had in Sicily, and Miletus in the Black Sea. 

The Phocaeans had the sagacity to take to the sea not in mer- 
chantmen but in warships, swift galleys called penteconters, or 
"fiftiers," because of the number of oars they carried (p. 85). 
Moreover, they probably traveled in packs and not singly. The 
Phoenicians may have closed the western seas to freighters, but a 
flotilla of Phocaean galleys, stripped for action, was a different 
matter. The Phocaeans were friendly with the powers that con- 
trolled the Strait of Messina and had even been granted the privi- 
lege of toll-free passage. Beyond, they carried out a skillfully 
organized program of colonization. By planting a series of stations 
on Ischia off Naples, Sardinia, Minorca, Majorca, Ibiza, and along 
the Spanish coast warships needed provisioning points at far 
smaller intervals than merchantmen, which were able to hold the 
sea for days at a time they carved out a route that led them past 
the Strait of Gibraltar into the tin and silver depot of Tartessus. 
There are even vague rumors that a pair of their skippers ven- 
tured farther into the Atlantic, one along the Spanish coast toward 
the source of the tin, and the other southward along the Moroccan 

But another accomplishment of the Phocaeans was more signi- 
ficant if not as spectacular. They explored the Gulf of Lion to the 
south of France and, about 600 B.C., planted a colony called Mas- 
silia, the Marseilles of today, at the mouth of the Rhone, a door 

8s The Ancient Mariners 

through which the culture first of Greece and then of Rome was 
to pass to the whole of France. From here they spread east and west. 
When they had finished, the Spanish and French coast from a little 
east of Malaga, which the Phoenicians held, to Nice was firmly 
settled by Greeks. 

The Phocaeans had not only carried out their colonizing in an 
aggressive and orderly manner, but they had picked a perfect time, 
about 600 B.C., a period when Phoenician hands were tied. Tyre 
was busy with wars back home and Carthage with running help to 
its colonies in Sicily to fend off attacks from the neighboring 
Greeks. Once the Phoenicians were free of these entanglements, 
clash was inevitable. The first took place in 535 B.C. Spurred on by 
troubles with Persia back home in Asia Minor, the Phocaeans 
elected to move out lock, stock, and barrel and establish a new 
home elsewhere. As always, they picked a spot with care: the ex- 
pedition landed on the strategically placed island of Corsica. 
Neither the Carthaginians nor the Etruscans, who held the seas 
north of the island, could afford to overlook this. The result was 
the first of a series of great naval battles. Despite heavy odds the 
enemy fleet was precisely twice as large the Phocaeans held their 
own, but the victory was a pyrrhic one: when the day ended two- 
thirds of their vessels had gone to the bottom and the rest were 
badly damaged. The remnants of the expedition abandoned the 
attempt to colonize Corsica and transferred to a site in south Italy 
well in Greek territory. The Carthaginians had taken the first step 
toward closing the Strait of Gibraltar to competitors. Two more 
naval engagements were fought in the next fifty years, and the 
Greeks won both. But they were defensive actions: victory meant 
that they could maintain their hold on the eastern portion of Sicily, 
south France, and northeast Spain; the rest of the western Mediter- 
ranean belonged to Carthage, and by 480 B.C. she had bolted the 
gates of Gibraltar. The situation in the west was now fixed in the 
form it was to have until the coming of the Romans centuries later. 
The vital trade in tin from the Atlantic and in silver and lead and 
iron from Spain was an acknowledged Carthaginian monopoly, 

In these days there was no one state which had the naval strength 
to police the seas. Every city involved in trade had to maintain its 

Westward Ho! 83 

own fleet, not only to protect its merchantmen against the ubi- 
quitous pirates (whose calling now as before had the status of a 
recognized profession) but also to repel attacks delivered by com- 
mercial rivals since such attempts were an acknowledged means of 
discouraging competition. Carthaginians preyed on Greek ship- 
ping, Greeks on Carthaginian, and independents on both. The per- 
fecting of men-of-war and the building up of navies went hand in 
hand with the planting of colonies and the opening up of trade 

When the fleets of Carthage and Phocaea dashed off the shores 
of Corsica in 535 B.C., it was no mere set-to of a pair of packs of 
Homeric rovers. The ships that fought that day were the result of 
centuries of improvement Ever since the era of colonization had 
begun, the art of shipbuilding had not only been constantly refined 
but had become a major industry as shipyards worked to meet an 
ever expanding demand. As one would expect, Corinth took the 
lead and her ship designers during this period achieved a reputa- 
tion they were to hold for years. 

The old undecked sea rover, efficient enough for raiding and 
piracy, was no vessel to protect the new long trade routes now 
flung across the Mediterranean. By 800 B.C. Greek shipbuilders 
were taking the basic steps toward creating the craft that was to 
serve as the standard ship of the line for the next thousand years 
(Pis. 3d, 4) . A revolution in design was carried out, every bit 
as sweeping in its time as the mounting of guns on shipboard in 
the fourteenth century or the introduction of ironclads in the nine- 

As in the case of so many other key changes in the ancient world, 
there are no written records to tell how this one took place. But 
the course can be followed thanks to the Greek's characteristic of 
insisting on artistic and interesting decoration for his pottery 
whether used to hold his ancestor's ashes or to carry slops. The vase 
painters in this age of colonization, as was natural, included among 
the scenes they favored pictures of vessels in action, some drawn 
with exquisite care. 

The very earliest, painted probably between 850 and 800 B.C. 
(PL 3d) , shows that a new type of warship had already come into 
existence. It is one clearly derived from those used in Homer's day 

84 The Ancient Mariners 

and before, for it has the high rounded stern and straight prow 
of the earlier craft, and the two give the "horned" effect that 
Homer had noted (p. 41; PL gc). But a revolutionary new feature 
has been added. The vessel has been given an offensive weapon: 
from its prow juts a powerful pointed ram. This must have inau- 
gurated a new era in naval tactics. No longer was a sea battle 
simply a match between the archers and spearsmen carried as 
marines, a sort of land fight, as it were, transferred to shipboard, 
as in Ramses' successful attack on the sea raiders (p. 32). The ram 
changed all that: it shifted the emphasis to the men that manned 
the oars. Victory would go to the crew so trained that it could 
respond instantly and accurately to command and drive its ship to 
that position from which a blow of the ram could be launched at 
the enemy's vital point. A fight now became a contest in maneuver- 
ing, the captains using their oars as, centuries later, frigates were 
to use their sails to attain the proper position for a broadside. Since 
the ram first appears on Greek vases, its invention is generally 
credited to their account. Perhaps the Phoenicians thought of it 
earlier but there is no way of telling, for they never pictured their 
ships on their pottery. 

Homer's vessels had been open, undecked affairs. The new age 
required something more efficient and protected. A second radically 
new feature was added, a fighting platform from which the ma- 
rines archers and spearsmen could function (PL 4a-d) . It took 
the form of a deck that covered most but not all of the ship; it 
ran over the centerline from stem to stern but not from board to 
board. A space along the side was left open and, when the vessel 
was merely cruising, the rowers sat at the level of the deck and 
worked their oars from there (PI 4a, b) . In action such a posi- 
tion was dangerously exposed. The naval architects met this weak- 
ness by an ingenious device: they inserted a complete series of 
rowers' benches at a lower level. When a ship engaged in combat 
the oarsmen took their places down there; with their heads well 
below the line of the deck they were protected from enemy darts 
and the only exposed personnel were the marines on it, directing 
fire against the opponent (PL 4d) . Oarsmen placed deep in the 
vessel for shelter during combat was a fine idea but hardly help- 
ful if they suffocated; so the architects left the area between the 

Westward Ho! 85 

upper and lower thwarts open as a low waist covered only with a 
kind of lattice (PL 4c) . This not only provided ventilation but 
also an escape hatch for emergencies. Panels probably closed in 
the open spaces between the slats when the water was choppy. 

The ancients, instead of using rowlocks, worked their oars 
against tholepins which they called "keys," and in the vase paint- 
ings these have just that sort of shape (PL 4c). The oars were 
made fast by a leather strap looped loosely over the pin so that 
they could not go over the side if a rower lost his grip. 

In the sixth century B.C. warships saw still more improve- 
ment (PL 5) . The prow was straightened and lost its swept-back 
curve. The stern was finished off in a plume- or fan-like adorn- 
ment which became thereafter the distinguishing mark of the 
warship and was looked on, along with the ram, as a sort of naval 
scalp: victors cut them off vanquished vessels and took them home 
as trophies. The low waist and its lattice was almost completely 
eliminated and, as a result, the hull took on a sleeker, trimmer look 
(PL 5c). Though ships manned by twenty rowers, as in Homer's day 
(p. 36) , were still in use (PL sa), larger types were favored because 
the more powerfully a ram was driven, the more damaging was its 
blow. Thirty-oared craft, triacontors, were now built for lighter 
work, and the ship of the line was the fifty-oared galley, the pente- 
conter (PL sb) . Twenty-four rowers lined each side, and two steer- 
ing oars at the stern filled out the complement. A single bank of oars 
was the only arrangement naval architects had heretofore used. It 
was not always completely successful. In the case of the penteconter 
it made for an excessively long and slender vessel, expensive to 
build, difficult to maneuver, and dangerously unseaworthy. Yet to 
shorten it was out of the question since this meant giving up some 
of the essential oar power. 

Alternative seating of the rowers gave the clue for the next im- 
provement in the penteconter. If the vessel could be driven either 
from the deckline or from some lower point, why not from both 
at once? And so the naval architects designed a new type of hull, 
one in which the twenty-four oarsmen were split into two super- 
imposed banks, twelve along the gunwale and twelve along lower 
thwarts, rowing through ports in the hull. To fit everybody in, the 
oars were staggered so that each one of the upper bank was placed 

86 The Ancient Mariners 

over the space between two of the lower (Pis. 6b, ya) . The new 
craft were shorter than the old by at least a third. They were 
more compact, far sturdier, far more seaworthy and offered 33^ 
per cent less of a target to an enemy ram. Yet not a rower had been 
sacrificed. The stage was now set for the last step, the introduction 
of a third bank, but that was not taken for a century or so. 

The earliest picture preserved of the new two-banked galley is 
in a relief carved on an Assyrian king's palace that was built be- 
tween 705 and 681 B.C. (PL 6c) . The vessel must be Phoenician be- 
cause the Assyrians, having no navy of their own, used the fleets 
of the Phoenician cities which they controlled at this time. It is 
a lofty craft with a full upper deck girt by a bulwark; clearly the 
designers were interested in providing space and protection for 
a good-sized complement of marines. Shortly thereafter two-banked 
galleys, lower and lighter than the Phoenician type, appear on 
Greek vases (Pis. 6b, 7a) . It is anybody's guess which of the two 
nations deserves credit for the invention. Whichever it was, the 
other quickly followed suit. 

Greeks and Phoenicians were conservative when it came to rig- 
ging their vessels. The new warships carried the same rig that 
Mediterranean craft had for centuries, a single broad squaresail. 
But this was almost exclusively for cruising. In battle a vessel had 
to be able to move in any direction in its efforts to get into posi- 
tion for a ram attack, so it was impossible, even dangerous, to 
depend on the wind. A captain, on going into action, generally 
ordered mast and sail unstepped and left ashore he had no space 
aboard to store such bulky gear and, from that moment on, de- 
pended solely on the muscle and reflexes of his oarsmen (Pis. 3d, 
6b) . Pirates, who had to carry sail at all times in order to chase 
down merchantmen, to meet their particular requirements actually 
worked out a special version of the two-banked galley, the hemiolia 
or "one and a half-er." It was so constructed that, when the quarry 
was overtaken and the boarding action ready to begin, half the 
rowers in the upper bank, those between the mast and the stern, 
were able to secure their oars and leave the benches; this left not 
only an ample space in the af terpart of the ship into which mast and 
sail could be lowered and stowed away, but a dozen hands or so 
available to carry out the work (PL 7a, b) . 

Westward Hoi 87 

Although many Greek cities designed and made their own craft, 
others found it easier to turn to great shipbuilding centers. When, 
in 704 B.C., the island of Samos decided to create a navy, she applied 
to Corinth and the latter sent her a topflight architect who super- 
intended the construction of four vessels of the latest design, prob- 
ably two-banked galleys. There is no telling how many units made 
up a fleet at this time. When the Phocaeans fought against Carth- 
age off Corsica in 535, they managed to put sixty vessels into action 
and they had a reputation for having a powerful navy; the Car- 
thaginians, together with the Etruscans who joined them in the 
fight, had a force of 120. 

Along with the pictures of the new warships on the Greek vases 
are a handful showing merchantmen (PI. 6a, 7) . In a way these are 
even more to be prized because they furnish the only clue to what 
a freighter looked like for a period that extends a full fifteen hun- 
dred years, from the Egyptian wall paintings of the fifteenth cen- 
tury B.C. to the beginning of the Roman Empire. Whatever the 
Greeks made they made with beauty, and this was just as true of so 
prosaic an object as a cargo vessel as it was of their proud temples. 
To that which in other hands became a clumsy tub, the genius of 
the Greek designer gave graceful form and superb lines and, as a 
master stroke, added a bow with the same concave curve that lent 
so much distinction to the famous American clippers (PL 7) . The 
rig as always is the single broad squaresail, but it is in these 
boats a great billowing spread that needs a complicated system of 
brails (p. 38) the ancients knew nothing of reefpoints to shorten 
saiL These vessels had to work hard. There were few convenient 
quays in the ports where they put up; most of the time they ran 
right up on the shore. And so they always carried, lashed on deck, 
two types of landing ladder: a short one for beaches that dropped 
abruptly and steeply, where they could come in quite close, and a 
longer one for those occasions when they had to stand farther off 
on a beach that shelved gradually. 

By 550 B.C. the vast movement from homeland to colony came to 
a halt. The Mediterranean was now a far different place from what 
it had been almost a half millennium earlier when the Phoenicians 
embarked on their pioneering voyages or when the Greeks entered 

88 The Ancient Mariners 

the field two centuries later. Shores that had been uninhabited or 
populated only by barbarian tribes were now dotted with flourish- 
ing colonies. Trade routes crisscrossed the whole of the sea from 
Cadiz beyond the Strait of Gibraltar to the far eastern shore of the 
Black Sea, from the mouth of the Po to that of the Nile. Scholars, 
digesting the mass of information brought back from all these 
quarters, compiled it and constructed maps from it and inaugurated 
thereby the science of geography. A half a dozen Greek states had 
become significant maritime powers, backing their commercial in- 
terests with powerful navies. The fifty-oared galley of Homer's day, 
redesigned to carry a ram and with its rowers split into two com- 
pact banks, had emerged as a first-rate fighting ship. It had seen 
action in some sharp clashes, especially in the west between Greeks 
and Carthaginians. 

But this was just the dawn of a great age of naval warfare. 
Within little more than a half-century, battles were to be fought 
whose names may be found in every history book; and the fine new 
two-banked galleys were to lie rotting in the yards, rendered obso- 
lete by still another ingenious advance in naval architecture. 




ON THE MORNING OF September 23, 480 B.C., Xerxes, ruler of the 
great Persian Empire, "king of kings," walked up a hill just west 
o Athens and sat down on a golden chair set there by his servants. 
Behind him smoke rose from the city: his soldiers had capped a suc- 
cessful march through north Greece with the sack of Athens. At 
his feet glistened the waters of a narrow sound, a mile wide and 
somewhat over three long, which separated the island of Salamis 
from the mainland. Against the farther shore lay the whole of the 
Greek fleet, a melange of groups from the chief cities. It was tightly 
corked up in the sound by Persian squadrons stationed at each en- 
trance. The king gave the order to his admirals to move in for the 
kill and relaxed in his chair for a bird's-eye view of the impending 

Ten years earlier Persia, a nation that covered as much territory 
as the United States, under Xerxes' father had attempted to con- 
quer Greece, a land smaller than New York State. The attack had 
been repulsed much to the surprise of both sides. Now the son 
was on the point of finishing the job. His land forces had fought 
their way through north Greece to Athens; all he had to do was 

go The Ancient Mariners 

wipe out the enemy's fleet and he could just about write finis to 
the war. Everything was in his favor: his troops controlled most 
of the neighboring shores, his ships outnumbered the Greeks at 
least two to one, and, to top it all, a message received at his head- 
quarters the day before had convinced him that one of the key 
Greek commanders, Themistocles, was ready to turn traitor. It was 
Xerxes' great misfortune that this particular figure was one of the 
wiliest and most gifted admirals in the history of naval warfare. 

Themistocles had commanded the Athenian sea forces since the 
outbreak of the war, some months earlier. He was more than 
merely a naval tactician; he was a statesman of rare vision. Two 
years before, when Athens had received an oracle that "the wooden 
wall would be safe," he convinced the populace that this meant a 
wall of ships. This wasn't all. The treasury had just received a 
windfall in the form of a rich strike in the government-owned sil- 
ver mines, and the voters were on the point of passing the appro- 
priate legislation to divide the money among themselves. Themis- 
tocles accomplished the almost miraculous feat of talking them into 
spending it on the fleet. Thanks to his foresight, when the Per- 
sians began their offensive Athens had an imposing navy of two 
hundred ships. Stiffened by these and guided by Themistocles' 
generalship the entire Greek fleet, though terribly outnumbered, 
had fought the enemy to a draw off Cape Artemisium in northerly 
waters two months earlier. And it was thanks to his generalship 
that the fleet was now hemmed in in the narrow waters of Salamis 

This was precisely the way Themistocles wanted it, the only way 
the Greeks had a chance to win. It came about solely as a result 
of his subtle and untiring efforts. The whole Greek fleet totaled 
somewhere between three hundred and four hundred craft. The 
Persians, of course, had no ships of their own Susa, their capital, 
lay eight hundred miles east of the sea but, since they controlled 
the eastern coast of the Mediterranean from the Dardanelles to the 
Nile, they had commandeered squadrons from Phoenicia, Egypt, 
and even from some of the Greek cities of Asia Minor. They had 
at least over seven hundred ships and perhaps many more; some 
estimates ran as high as fourteen hundred. Themistocles recog- 
nized that a fight in the open sea where the enemy could deploy 


Early Boats 

a. Clay model of a sailing (?) skiff found at Eridu in southern Mesopotamia, 
Ca. 3500 or 3400 B.C. 

b. Drawing of a sailboat on pottery from south- 
ern Egypt. Ca. 2900 B.C. 

c. Merchantman on a Minoan seal. Ca. 2000 B.C. 
The high end is the prow. 

d. Sailor fighting a sea monster. 
On a Minoan seal, ca. 1600 B.C. 

e. Galley on a Minoan seal. Ca. 1600 B.C. 


Egyptian Seagoing Ships 
a. Model of ship of Pharaoh Sahure. Ca. 3550 B.C. 

b. Model of ship of Queen Hatshepsut. Ca. 1500 B.C. 


Aegean Warships, 2000-800 B.C. 

a. Warships drawn on the backs of mirrors found on Syros in 
the Cyclades. Ca. 2000 B.C. 

b. Galley, probably 5O-oared, on a cylindrical 
clay box found at Pylos. Ca. 1200-1100 B.C. 

c. Galley on a vase found at Asine. Ca. 1200- 
1100 B.C. 

d. Galley on a cup found at Eleusis. Ca. 
850-800 B.C. 

Greek Warships, 800-700 B.C. 

a. Galley, probably 2o-oared, cruising. 

b. Galley, probably 5o-oared, preparing to shove off. The 
vessel has only one bank of oars: the artist, wanting to in- 
clude both port and starboard rowers but not able to 
handle the perspective involved, naively portrayed the one 
above the other. 

c. Forward part of a galley showing the keylike tholepins. 

d. After portion of a galley in action. 


Greek Warships, 600-500 B.C. /- ~-* r ' 

a. Galley, probably so-oared, cruising. 

b. Galley, probably 50-oared, cruising. 

c. Galleys cruising under sail; note the ports in the gunwales for the oars. 


Merchantman and Two-Banked Warships, 700-500 B.C. 
a. Merchantman on a vase from Cyprus. Ca. 700-600 B.C. 

b. Two-banked galley, probably 50-oared, in action. Ca. 500 B.C. 

c. Two-banked Phoenician galley. 
Ca. 705-686 B.C. 

Merchantman and Pirate Craft. Ca. 540-500 B.C. 

a. Hemiolia, 5O-oared, overtaking a merchantman traveling under short- 
ened sail. From an Athenian cup. 

b. A second scene from the same cup. The hemiolia has secured the upper 
bank of oars abaft the mast preliminary to lowering it (it already leans 
slightly aft). The merchantman now has all its canvas drawing hi the 
effort to escape. 


The Greek Trireme 

a. Reconstructed cross-section of a fifth century Athenian trireme show- 
ing the arrangement o the rowers; flat platform at right represents the 

b. A fifth century Athenian trireme cruising. 

The Wooden Walls 91 

all his forces would be disastrous; his only chance lay in waters 
where the Persians could bring to bear at any one time only a 
limited portion of their fleet. He chose the cramped Strait of 

Themistocles' first job was to convince his own allies. Although 
the heart and brains of the Greek defense, officially he was only the 
commanding officer of the Athenian contingent a Spartan held 
the over-all command and it took all his diplomacy to sell his 
fellow officers the idea that the only way to win was to crawl into 
a bottle and allow it to be corked. Next he had to snare Xerxes into 
the trap. His guile was equal even to this: on the ssnd of Septem- 
ber he dispatched one of his slaves to Xeixes' headquarters with the 
message that the Greek fleet was making ready to slip out of the 
channel and scatter, thereby depriving the king of the chance to 
destroy it at one blow. Xerxes rose to the bait: that night his 
squadrons moved into position and blocked all avenues of escape. 

So far Themistocles had made all the preparatory moves with 
superb artistry. He conducted the battle with equal brilliance. 
Most of the Persian fleet was gathered outside the southern en- 
trance to Salamis Sound, their prows pointed toward it. The first 
step was to suck them in. Themistocles waited patiently until the 
usual sea breeze, which would tend to move the enemy gradually 
into the channel, sprang up before he went into action. As soon as 
he had led out his vessels to face the Persian lines, Xerxes' ad- 
mirals gave the signal to attack and Themistocles' first command 
was to back water, as if afraid of contact. Only when he had in 
this way enticed the enemy well within the channel did he give the 
order to charge. The Persians' front line, pressing forward into a 
narrowing space, gradually contracted until ship began to foul ship. 
Worse was at hand. First its forward motion was checked by the 
charging Greeks; and then the supporting Persian lines, rowing 
ahead hard to get into the action and unable to stop in time, broke 
into its rear. Themistocles' forces under his rigorous discipline had 
maintained their ranks and now they were ready for the kill. In 
line of battle they slammed into their opponents, by this time in 
utter disorder, ramming with deadly effect. One enemy ship after 
another, foregoing any attempt to withstand attack, turned to extri- 
cate itself and flee. The battle ended in a rout; Greece was not only 

g2 The Ancient Mariners 

saved but a Persian fleet was never to challenge her supremacy on 
the sea again. 

Not one penteconter was to be seen in the two lines as they faced 
each other across the waters of the sound. No more than fifty years 
earlier a dramatic development had taken place in naval design 
which had completely changed the complexion of Mediterranean 
fighting fleets. When Themistocles talked the Athenians into creat- 
ing a modern navy he asked for much more than the building of 
additional units; whatever penteconters lay in the slips of the navy 
yard had to be replaced with ships of the new design. The vessels 
that fought on both sides in the Persian wars were almost all of 
a type called by the Greeks trieres, "g-er," more commonly known 
to us under the Latinized name trireme. With the ships came new 
ways of fighting; decades before Greeks and Persians clashed in the 
Battle of Artemisium admirals had learned the handling of the new 
craft and devised intricate tactics for them. 

The trireme was the logical offspring of the two-banked pente- 
conter. When naval architects centuries earlier sought to increase 
the power and speed of the original long ship with its single line 
of rowers, they found the solution in dividing the oarsmen into 
two levels, the lower rowing through ports in the hull, the upper 
over the gunwale (p. 85)^ How could the power of such vessels 
be increased still further? One possibility was the addition of a 
third bank. But there was no longer room for such within the 
hull itself and to redesign to make room would result in a much 
deeper, heavier ship, one so much slower that it would cancel out 
most of the advantages of a third line of rowers. Between 550 and 
525 B.C. some architectural genius came up with the answer: he 
added on either side an outrigger (parexeresia, or "by-rowing ap- 
paratus" as the Greeks called it) above and projecting laterally be- 
yond the gunwale. In this way he made room for a third bank of 
oarsmen without drastic changes in the general lines of the hull 
(PL 8; cf. Pis. 10, na, i3c) . The result was a ship with all the 
speed and maneuverability of its predecessor but with vastly in- 
creased power. The new design spread like wildfire: in the dock- 
yards of Tyre and Sidon among the Phoenicians, at the mouth of 
the Nile in Egypt, at Corinth in Greece or off in Syracuse in Sicily, 

The Wooden Walls 93 

penteconters were left to rot or were cannibalized for their timber 
while shipwrights worked feverishly to turn out triremes. During 
the whole of the fifth and most of the fourth century B.C., they were 
the unchallenged queens of the sea, and they were to be found 
in the fleets almost until the end of ancient times. 

No good pictures or models of triremes have survived, but much 
miscellaneous information about them has in one way or another 
been collected. The official records of the Athenian navy yard, for 
example, fortunately for posterity were carved on stone and they 
have been dug up; they list the exact amount of gear of various 
types issued to these ships. Several of the slips where triremes were 
docked in the Athenian navy yard are still visible, and archaeol- 
ogists have examined and measured them. The longest is a little 
under 125 feet and the width between each pair is under twenty 
feet; these then must be the dimensions of the largest ships. Tri- 
remes lay low in the water: their total freeboard was probably not 
much over eight feet and they very likely had a draught of about 
three, shallow enough to enable them to be drawn up on a beach 
or portaged on rollers. The lowest bank of rowers, the thalamites as 
they are generally called, worked their oars through ports that 
were not over a foot and a half above the waterline (PL 8a) ; a 
leathern bag fitted snugly about the oar and its opening to keep 
out the sea, but in any sort of chop these oars were secured and 
the ports completely sealed with coverings. A form of punishment 
in the fleets was to lash a man to a thalamite thwart with his head 
sticking out the port: in harbor this was probably not much worse 
than the pillory but under way it could be severe. The dockyard 
records show that there were twenty-seven rowers in this bank on 
each side. The next higher row, the zygites, had the same number. 
Each sat above and slightly forward of the corresponding thala- 
mite and worked his oar over the gunwale. On special benches built 
on top of the gunwale sat the highest row, the thranites, each 
slightly forward of and higher than the corresponding zygite; the 
thole pins for their oars were set in an outrigger that projected 
about three feet from the side of the ship. Their stroke was the 
most wearing, for their oars, pivoting so high up, struck the water 
at a relatively sharp angle. Since the hull curved up at each end 
into long overhangs it squeezed out the lower banks there but left 

g4 The Ancient Mariners 

some room for the highest; consequently there were four more 
thranite oars, a total of thirty-one on each side. All in all, a trireme 
mounted 170 oars, not including the pair used for steering. 

The rowers were so cunnningly arranged that the oars of the 
three banks were almost all the same length, fourteen feet, four 
inches, just about the standard used on some navy cutters today. 
Slightly shorter ones, thirteen and a half feet, were used at bow and 
stern where the sides curved inward. Thus, not only the manu- 
facture of oars but the stocking of spares was simplified enormously. 
The dockyard records show that each ship was issued two hundred; 
one hundred and seventy for the three banks and thirty of the two 
sizes for reserve. 

If one looked at a vessel's side the oars seemed to make a quincunx 

pattern . The important cluster, however, was the 

group of three in an oblique line \ \*v\*\ '> the thranite, zy- 

gite, and thalamite oars in such a segment was the unit that 
counted and gave the vessel its name, trier es, "g-er" (cf. PL lob) . 
There were twenty-seven units in all on each side plus two thranites 
rowing alone fore and aft. The distance between rowers is a constant, 
three feet, set by the size of the human body, so that a trireme was 
not too much longer than an early penteconter with its twenty- 
four men to a side. But it was infinitely more powerful, more 
maneuverable, more adaptable. In calm weather it could be rowed 
easily from the thalamite bank and, in a choppy sea, comfortably 
from the thranite. In action, driven by all three it could sprint at 
a seven-knot speed or spin about in little more than its own length. 
Despite its size and power, it was light and shallow enough for the 
crew to run it up on a beach at night. 

The complement of a trireme, when fully manned, amounted to 
two hundred excluding marines. In addition to the 170 rowers 
there were twenty-five petty officers and miscellaneous hands, and 
five officers. In the names of some of the latter one can discern the 
duties on the original long ships that required personnel with 
authority: kybernetes^ "helmsmen"; proreus, "lookout"; keleustes, 
"timebeater." The names were traditional; they hardly reflected 
any longer the duties of these officers aboard a trireme. The kyber- 

The Wooden Walls 95 

netes carried over some of his original function, for he was the 
ship's navigating officer and in battle or storm might even handle 
the steering oars himself, although at other times he turned them 
over to enlisted personnel. This was only a part of his duties. He 
was the equivalent of the executive officer of today. If the captain 
was absent or lost, command devolved upon him. Moreover, in the 
Athenian navy at least, because the captain was by standard pro- 
cedure a political appointee the kybernetes actually ran the ship. 
The Athenians had an arrangement whereby a rich man of the 
community for one year assumed the expenses of fitting out and 
maintaining a galley and also took over its command; obviously if 
the trierarch, as this captain was titled, had any naval experience it 
was only by sheerest coincidence. Next in line to the kybernetes 
was the proreus, "bow officer," who had immediate authority for- 
ward, was answerable for maintaining a proper lookout, and prob- 
ably supervised such activities as beaching and dropping anchor. 
Also, like the first lieutenant of today, it was his job to keep a con- 
stant eye on hull and gear. The keleustes was responsible for the 
oarsmen, their equipment, provisions, training, and morale. Under 
way he set the stroke on orders from the kybernetes, but the actual 
beating of time for the rowers was done by the monotonous 
tootling of the ship's flutist, the trieraules, "trireme flutist" (or 
simply auletes, "flutist") , who could be a foreigner hired for the 
purpose or even a slave. The fifth officer, the pentecontarchos, 
served as a junior assisting the others and in particular was the 
trierarch's administrative aide. He kept the ship's records, hired 
and paid rowers, took care of all disbursements. These five made 
up, as it were, the commissioned personnel. In addition there were 
petty officers, including a ship's carpenter, deck hands to take care 
of lines and sail, marines ten or so soldiers and two to three bow- 
men and the complement of rowers. 

To man the benches of a trireme was almost as difficult and as 
expensive as to build one. The Athenian contingent of two hundred 
ships at Salamis, for example, required no less than 34,000 men. 
Such a number was too much to be met by the populace alone, 
which among other things had to fill the ranks of the land forces 
at the same time. Moreover, the army, not the navy, was the senior 
service. Anyone who could afford a soldier's armor and weapons 

9 6 The Ancient Mariners 

understandably preferred to fight in the field rather than to sweat 
on a bench in a hot and foul ship's hold; he only submitted to it 
in emergencies when his city had no other recourse. Slaves in great 
enough numbers were hard to come by and even when enough were 
available, being untrustworthy and very expensive (they had to be 
supported forever instead of just for a given campaign) , they were 
not often used; Athens turned to them only when she had run out 
of all other sources of manpower, and offered them their freedom 
as a reward at that. The core of the rowing crews was the lowest 
class of citizens, those who couldn't afford to equip themselves as 
soldiers. The rest simply had to be hired, and the chief source of 
supply was the Aegean islands and the coastal towns of Asia Minor 
whose people then as today lived off the sea. Since the service was 
both arduous and dangerous, it commanded attractive salaries; 
thranites, who had the hardest stroke, could even receive a pre- 
mium. A state needed money to maintain a fleet. Moreover, skip 
pers could not be as cavalier with these hands, citizens or well-paid 
foreigners, as the commanders of slave-driven medieval galleys; no 
lashes were used aboard Greek triremes. At times, especially after 
severe losses, bringing crews up to full strength was not always 
possible. So, vessels occasionally went to sea undermanned and 
admirals were forced, on going into action, to leave some ships be- 
hind and use the men from them to fill out the rest. 

Since a fleet of triremes not uncommonly numbered one hundred 
vessels and at times half that again or more, commanders were 
faced with the task of provisioning twenty thousand to thirty thou- 
sand men. Incredible as it may sound, Greek navies of this period 
never worked out an organized system of supply. Only a few days' 
rations at most were carried on board because the sole storage 
available was some scanty space under the bow and stern decks 
and this was ordinarily assigned to gear. In an extended fleet move- 
ment supply ships might be taken along. But most of the time the 
admirals simply put into shore near some town and the men, quit- 
ting the ships, hustled to the local market and bought food. 
Somehow the system must have worked, for we never hear of crews 
going hungry. We do hear of canny admirals who won victories 
cheaply by the simple expedient of lurking out of sight until the 
enemy commander beached his ships and let the men go off to 

The Wooden Walls 97 

market; they then would run in and destroy or tow off the empty 

Greek navies had no admirals as such, just military chiefs who 
were expected to be competent on land or sea, A man in command 
of an army one month might expect to find himself at the head of 
a fleet the next. Moreover, in Athens, where the citizens pushed 
democratic procedures just as far as they could, they assigned 
commanders themselves, picking them from a board of ten annually 
elected by popular vote. Somehow the system worked as well as 
most: by and large it succeeded in getting the fleet into competent 
hands, even at times into those of a naval genius like Themis- 
tocles; on occasion it turned it over to men of monumental pig- 
headedness (p. 106) . 

The crews had to be rigorously trained. Their job, from the 
point of view of timing and coordination, was probably as exact- 
ing as any aboard a modern ship and incomparably more taxing 
physically. In 494 B.C. the Greek cities of Asia Minor, in an at- 
tempt to throw off the Persian yoke, began to organize a fleet. They 
turned over the training of the rowers, citizens who had volun- 
teered, to a hard-bitten officer from Phocaea, that city of gifted 
seamen (p. 81) . The men were able to take just three days of the 
punishing regime he put them through; after that they quit. Any- 
one who has nursed a set of blisters and sore muscles from a few 
hours in a rowboat can appreciate how they felt. 

In general the oarsmen were saved for battle. For cruising a 
mast was stepped and braced with wedges, and a large squaresail 
raised on it. But this rig was useless during battle since a vessel had 
to be ready to turn in any direction at a moment's notice and simply 
couldn't depend on the vagaries of the wind (cf. p. 86) . Moreover, 
since there was no place aboard to stow such bulky gear, it was gen- 
erally left ashore when the ship went into action. All that was taken 
along was a smaller mast and sail, a "boat sail" as the Greeks called 
it. When a ship turned to flee this was raised; to "hoist the boat sail" 
was Greek sailor slang for "run away." Warships of the much later 
Roman navy are depicted with the artemon, a small sail set over 
the bows on a short raking mast (p. 213). It has been suggested 
that this is the "boat sail" of the Greek triremes of the fifth and 
fourth centuries B.C., but it is far more likely that the "boat sail" 

og The Ancient Mariners 


was simply a replacement for the regular-sized gear and was used 
because, being of convenient size, it could always be kept on board. 
It was as expensive to maintain a fleet as to man it. A trireme was 
such a lightly built thing and subject to such severe strain that its 
life was short. Most had to be scrapped after twenty years of ser- 
vice, many earlier, and any that lasted twenty-five was a veritable 
Methuselah. The Athenian navy carefully divided its galleys into 
categories: the newest were assigned to the "reserves," that is, to be 
kept home for emergencies and not sent out on routine duties; 
the others were rated first, second, or third class, depending upon 
age and condition. Ships that failed to measure up to even the last 
category could get a stay of execution by being converted into 
transports to ferry the cavalry's horses (p. 102) ; those that had 
outlived their usefulness for service of any sort were declared ob- 
solete and struck from the records. Most of the discards were prob- 
ably cannibalized, although there is at least one case on record of 
a "war surplus" sale: early in the fourth century B.C., when states 
were going in on a large scale for the use of mercenary soldiers in 
their armies (p. 124) , an enterprising Athenian bought up a dis- 
carded trireme, put it into commission, collected a crew to man 
it, and hired out as a naval mercenary. Though the replacement 
of obsolete ships accounted for far and away the bulk of the moneys 
spent on a navy, the purchase and upkeep of the miscellaneous gear 
each vessel carried involved no inconsiderable expense. The sails 
came in two grades of linen, heavy and light. Running rigging in- 
cluded two halyards, two sheets, two braces, and eighteen loops 
of brails. Standing rigging consisted, as in Homer's day (p. 38) , 
only of a double forestay and a backstay. Since no shrouds are 
ever mentioned, the double forestay must have been run to each 
rail somewhat abaft the prow to provide some lateral bracing; deck 
hands used it to raise and lower the mast and, from incidental re- 
marks dropped by ancient writers, it is clear that it was considered 
the key item of rigging. There were four heavy and four lighter 
cables for mooring lines and for the two anchors that were carried. 
The latter, made of iron, were very light, under fifty pounds, but 
additional weight could be added by clamping on stones or pieces 
of lead. An unusual item that formed part of the regular gear was 
a set of girding cables; each ship normally carried at least two, 

The Wooden Walls QQ 

often a few more as spares, and, when converted to transport the 
extra weight of horses, four. These were heavy hawsers which, 
strapped over the planking, girdled the ship horizontally from stem 
to stern and helped to keep the planks from starting under the shock 
of ramming or under the strain of the working of the oars. To 
counterbalance the weight of the extensive superstructure, ballast 
rocks or gravel or sand was distributed over the hold. 

The trireme carried two weapons. The first was its ram, a mas- 
sive timber jutting from the forefoot that was sheathed in an 
envelope of bronze tipped by a three-pronged barb with subsidiary 
spurs above, a much more efficient instrument than the single- 
pointed device of earlier times. The second was the marines on its 
decks. The Greek vessels that fought at Salamis, like the pente- 
conters, were not fully decked. There was decking at prow and 
stern and corridors ran lengthwise over the gunwales and prob- 
ably down the center. This was enough for the fourteen spearsmen 
and four archers that the ships carried as marines at the time and, 
although it left the rowers not completely protected, made for 
a lighter ship. In the ensuing half-century more decking was added. 
The corridors were extended laterally to project well over the out- 
riggers. Screens, too, were fitted along the sides so that, all in all, 
the oarsmen received a maximum of protection. Such ships, pro- 
tected on top by a deck and on the sides by screens, the Greeks 
called cataphract, that is, "fenced in" (cf. PL ioa) ; smaller open 
deckless craft were aphract, or "unfenced." 

Not all triremes were alike; there were differences between those 
of one state and another just as there are between ships of the 
same class in modern navies. These arose from the tactics favored 
and lay chiefly in the height of the vessel and the extent of its 
decking. The Phoenicians at Salamis, although their ships were 
light and fast for maneuvering and ramming, preferred a good 
complement of spearsmen and archers they had thirty to the 
eighteen aboard the opposing vessels so the triremes they used 
had ample deck space and were built higher than those of the 
Greeks in order to give their marines a chance to shoot down on an 
opponent; even in the earlier days of the two-banked galley they 
had gone in for vessels of this type (p. 86) . Certain Greek states, 
such as Corinth, also favored a ship that was heavy enough and had 

ioo The Ancient Mariners 

the decks to carry a powerful force of marines. The goal of all such 
ships was the destruction of the enemy's personnel rather than his 
vessels. The Athenians, on the other hand, went in for speed and 
maneuverability. In their heyday, the seventy years after Salamis, 
they limited the marines to fourteen and relied chiefly on the ef- 
ficiency of craft and crew to deliver lightning-like ram attacks. 
They used their vessels as projectiles and, disregarding the enemy's 
personnel, aimed for a quick decision by destroying his ships. 

Ramming was a most delicate maneuver. Only a skilled crew and 
a commander of fine judgment and keen sense of timing could 
bring it off. For one thing, it was a one-shot or at best a two-shot 
affair. A captain couldn't afford to miss more than twice, for by 
then his rowers were too exhausted to go through the grueling 
procedure all over again. At the moment of impact his ship had 
to be traveling at an intermediate speed: if too slow, the enemy 
could back water out of range; if too fast the thrust would embed 
the ram too deeply in the enemy hull and his men couldn't back 
water in time to get clear before the opponent's marines could 
grapple and board. If the first thrust missed or wasn't mortal, his 
men had to be ready to back water at full speed just enough to get 
into proper position again and then resume forward motion at the 
appropriate ramming speed. It was this need to fight a battle in a 
sort of slow motion as it were that made marines an essential part 
of the complement of all vessels, even those designed chiefly for the 
use of the ram. Without such fighters to rake the opponent's deck 
during the approach or to stand by to repel boarders after the im- 
pact, the attacked vessel's marines could grapple, board, and stand 
a fair chance of taking over the attacker. Themistocles used four- 
teen spearsmen and four archers per ship at Salamis; fifty years 
later Athenian admirals were able to cut the spearsmen to ten. 

Those navies which, because of the slowness of their vessels or 
the poor quality of their crews, could not depend on the ram were 
forced to rely more on marines. In battle their captains' prime con- 
cern was to avoid destruction from a ram stroke, and the standard 
method of accomplishing this was to keep, at all costs, the prow 
toward the enemy and give him no chance to get at the flanks or 
stern. If a captain could do this successfully it most often in- 
volved constant and careful backing water until the enemy crews 
were exhausted, he could then bring the fight down to one be- 

The Wooden Walls 101 

tween marines, in which the advantage lay on his side. If he could 
destroy enough enemy personnel in this phase, he might even be 
in a position to attack with the ram himself or, failing that, to 
grapple and board. 

A navy trained in the use of the ram favored two maneuvers in 
particular, the diecplus, the "break through/' and the periplus, the 
"sailing around." In battle, opponents generally faced each other 
in two long lines. The one carrying out the diecplus would at a 
given signal dash forward so suddenly and swiftly that his ships 
were able to row through the enemy's line before the latter was 
able to take countermeasures, wheel when through and ram the 
unprotected quarters or stern. It was a deadly maneuver but it 
demanded the utmost in coordination, response to command, and 
cleanness of execution; only fast ships and finely trained crews, 
taught to work in unison, could carry it out successfully. The 
periplus was simpler; it was an "end run" around the enemy's 
flank to take his line in the stern. 

An admiral could avoid the periplus either by extending his line 
though not so much that he would open himself up to the 
diecplus or, if the locale permitted, by keeping one flank close to 
shore. The diecplus was a tougher nut to crack. It probably was 
invented by those fine sailors, the Phoenicians; at any rate they 
were the first reported to have used it. They tried it out on Themis- 
tocles at the battle of Artemisium, two months before Salamis, but 
that astute commander had a countenneasure ready: he arranged 
his fleet in a circle with prows pointed outward and sterns toward 
the hub and literally left the attackers no line to break through. 
Another defense was to draw up a fleet in two lines; the second, 
held in reserve, could pounce on whatever enemy ships broke 
through the first. This was only feasible when an admiral had some 
superiority in numbers; otherwise his lines would be so short that 
the enemy could turn his flanks with the periplus. In a battle near 
the Arginusae Islands off the coast of Asia Minor in 406 B.C., the 
Athenians successfully used this tactic with a fleet of 150 ships 
against a Spartan fleet of 120; by picking a locale where there were 
a few islets so conveniently placed that they could be incorporated 
in the formation, the Athenian admirals were able to draw up a 
double line that was wider than their opponents' single one. 
When the Athenian navy was in its prime, the only smaller 

10 2 The Ancient Mariners 

variety of warcraft it used was the triacontor (p. 85), useful no 
doubt for scouting and chasing pirates. The penteconter was a 
thing of the past, completely replaced by the trireme. The latter 
was far from being only a ship of the line, designed solely for use 
against enemy units. It was a general workhorse and carried out 
a multitude of tasks. Stripped of many of its rowers it transported 
troops; with the oarsmen reduced to sixty it carried horses, thirty 
to a ship. It was ideal for amphibious operations since it was light 
enough to be drawn right up on a beach; many a so-called naval 
engagement was merely a semipiratical attack for plunder by a 
squadron of triremes on a coastal settlement. They performed con- 
voy duty, escorting freighters to protect them from an enemy or 
pirates or both. Since there was nothing faster afloat, they served 
as dispatch boats; the Athenians had a famous pair, the Paralus 
and Salaminia, the swiftest units in the fleet, which they constantly 
used to carry messages or transport important personages. 

The trireme had the two drawbacks of all ancient galleys, lack 
of space and excessive lightness. It was useless in any sort of heavy 
weather and, unable to carry provisions in any quantity, had to 
have bases readily available. Sailing freighters could strike across 
the open sea, but a fighting squadron had to follow the coast so 
that each night the men could beach the ships and cook, eat, and 
sleep ashore; naval actions always took place in sight of land. Since 
operating in waters where the enemy held the seaboard was out 
of the question, commanders were never able to maintain a true 
naval blockade; they might bottle a fleet in a harbor as Xerxes did 
Themistocles at Salamis, or cut a port from seaborne supplies, but 
they could not patrol an extended shore line that was securely 
in an opponent's hands. This limitation on cruising range made 
the open sea a sort of no-man's-land and particularly hindered the 
cleaning up of piracy; the job was never really done properly until 
the Romans came along with enormous forces at their disposal and 
the whole of the Mediterranean coast line more or less under their 
control (p. 205) . 

The Peloponnesian War, the great conflict between Athens and 
Sparta which began in 431 B.C. and lasted for twenty-seven years, 
was the heyday of the fleet trained in maneuver and the use of 

The Wooden Walls 103 

the ram. The Athenians, getting off to a flying start in their battles 
against Persia, had in the ensuing half-century built up the finest 
navy the Mediterranean had yet seen. Their ships were the fast- 
est afloat; their crews were trained to a razor-edge, especially in the 
complexities of the diecplus and the periplus; and in the early days 
of the war they had a gifted admiral named Phormio who was well 
able to carry on the tradition started by Themistocles. Their navy 
was so powerful an instrument that they depended chiefly on it 
during the whole of the war. Athens deliberately allowed Sparta 
and her allies to throw a cordon on the landward side about the 
city. It made no difference: under the besiegers' eyes, freighters 
convoyed by Athenian triremes brought in all the supplies the 
populace needed. Like Persia, Sparta was principally a land power 
and had no ships. Some of her allies, notably Corinth, had sizable 
navies, but none were particularly enthusiastic about taking on the 
Athenians except in circumstances where the odds were unques- 
tionably favorable. 

During the first years of the war the Athenian navy carried the 
art of fighting with the ram to heights never to be reached again, 
and the zenith was achieved at the battle of Patras, fought in 429 
B.C. in the waters of the western end of the Gulf of Corinth. Here 
Phormio with twenty triremes signally defeated an enemy fleet of 
forty-seven, one which, despite the odds, he had to force to come 
out and fight. When the opposing admiral a Spartan, although 
most of the ships under his command were Corinthian reluctantly 
decided to engage, in order to prevent the Athenians from carry- 
ing out the deadly diecplus he adopted the countermeasure of the 
circle. Putting five ships as reserve in the center, he rayed the other 
forty-two in a ring around them, prows outward; after all, The- 
mistocles had used the same maneuver at Artemisium and it had 
worked then. 

But the ships and crews of the Persians were not in a class with 
those that Phormio now commanded, nor was their admiral. Phor- 
mio tried a daring measure: proceeding in column he formed a 
ring around the Spartan formation and kept circling steadily about 
it. He thereby put his vessels in the most dangerous position pos- 
sible their broadsides exposed to the enemy's rams but he fig- 
ured he could rely not only on the quickness of his crews to spin 

104 The Ancient Mariners 

and get out of danger in case of a charge but also on the sluggish- 
ness of the enemy in mounting one. Moreover, like Themistocles 
at Salamis he cannily included the wind in his calculations. It was 
just after dawn and dead calm. But there was usually a morning 
breeze from the east in these waters and he reasoned that when it 
set in it would throw the dense Spartan formation into confusion. 
He had reckoned perfectly. As soon as the wind sprang up the 
enemy ships started to foul one another and had to be fended off 
with boat poles. Soon they were so close that the oars couldn't be 
worked. At that moment Phormio signaled the attack, and his 
ships turned from column to line and drilled in. In the very first 
charge they sank a flagship, and before the enemy could shake free 
and scuttle away they had seized a dozen prizes. 

The Spartans prudently waited until they outnumbered Phor- 
mio's little squadron by four to one before they set out to even the 
score. Again they lost, but this time only because of a single piece 
of Athenian seamanship that was extraordinary even for Athenians. 
The Spartans, with their overwhelming numbers, practically had 
the fight in their hands; they had captured nine ships and were 
savagely pursuing the remainder. One of their vessels pressed for- 
ward at the heels of a lagging Athenian craft. As it happened, a 
merchantman was anchored just ahead in an open roadstead. The 
Athenian captain headed his vessel for it but, instead of passing 
it, made a lightning turn around it which put him in perfect ram- 
ming position, and struck the pursuer square amidships. This was 
too much for the Spartan crews. They sat at their oars stunned 
and, before they could get under way again, the Athenian squadron 
stopped its flight, wheeled, charged and sank six craft. 

No more than sixteen years after Phormio's spectacular victories 
a bitter fight took place whose outcome presaged the end of the 
light fast trireme's undisputed reign as queen of the seas. The 
locale was the harbor of Syracuse, far from Athens. 

The Peloponnesian War was halted for a while by an indecisive 
treaty in 421 B.C. but erupted again a few years later. In 415 the 
Athenians took the first of a series of steps that was to lead to their 
defeat. Their navy was incomparable and they knew it. In an ac- 
cess of cocksureness they voted to send an enormous armada 134 

The Wooden Walls 105 

ships and 27,000 men overseas to capture Syracuse in Sicily. Be- 
fore the attempt was over, two years later, it had not only cost them 
200 ships and 50,000 men but had produced a new style of ship 
and fighting that spelled the end of their naval supremacy. 

When the huge fleet, including the finest units in the Athenian 
navy, sailed into the harbor of Syracuse in the summer of 415 there 
were probably few people on both sides who didn't think that the 
campaign would be over shortly. The Syracusans had a good-sized 
fleet; but nobody in it, from the admirals to the deck hands, 
reckoned that it had a chance against the Athenians. 

But an important clue to the direction in which victory lay was 
supplied the Syracusans by what at the time must have been re- 
ported as merely a minor naval engagement. In 413, in the narrow 
waters of a bay near the western end of the Gulf of Corinth, a 
squadron of Athenian ships engaged one from Corinth. There were 
no more than thirty-three units in each, a far cry from the great 
fleets over one hundred strong that were facing each other at Syra- 
cuse. When they finally disengaged after a long struggle, three 
Corinthian craft had gone to the bottom and seven Athenian had 
been put out of action. To the Corinthians, to have come off this 
well was tantamount to a victory. The reason for their good show- 
ing was clear: before the battle they had taken pains to reinforce 
their ships with extra timbers on the bows as well as on the cat- 
heads forming the front face of the outriggers and, during the bat- 
tle, they had stuck to narrow waters where their opponents, with 
no room to maneuver, had to ram prow to prow. As a result, seven 
Athenian craft bashed in their outriggers against the newly in- 
stalled massive foretimbers. 

Taking their cue from this engagement, the Syracusans rein- 
forced all their triremes in this way. The locale of the fighting was 
all in their favor. Their harbor was an oval about two thousand by 
four thousand yards in extent and they had succeeded in plugging 
the entrance with a line of sunken merchantmen. The Athenians 
were securely bottled up. They had to battle in waters where there 
was no room for the style of fighting they had been trained in, 
their slender prows faced the heavily armored fronts of the newly 
reconditioned fleet, and their sterns pointed to a shore that was 
mostly in enemy hands. Ramming could be only prow to prow, in 

io6 The Ancient Mariners 

which they had everything to lose and nothing to gain. The Athen- 
ian commander tried one last measure: he stationed extra marines 
in the bows with irons to grapple the Syracusan ships as they surged 
in; if the crews could back water quickly enough to ride out the 
first blow, the grapplers could hold the attackers fast, keep them 
from backing off for a second attempt, and give their own men a 
chance to board. It was plainly a measure of desperation, for these 
were the very tactics Athens had never bothered with and had no 
competence in. As it happened, the Syracusans got advance word 
of the plans and covered their foredecks with hides so that the 
grappling irons would rip harmlessly through and not embed in 
the planks. When the fleets finally engaged, the Athenians fought 
gallantly but it was in a lost cause. Not one of the 210 ships that, 
in the course of the campaign, had made their way into Syracuse 
Harbor came out of it. 

The Athenians had incredible stamina. Even this disaster didn't 
finish them off. In the following years, virtually starting from 
scratch, they were able to build up new powerful fleets and even 
win several victories, though their ships and crews were now often 
inferior to their opponents'; during these years, in a complete re- 
versal, it was the Athenians who defended against the diecplus and 
periplus and the Spartan fleets which executed them. The final de- 
feat was almost anticlimactic. In September of 405 B.C. Athens sent 
her entire navy, 180 units strong, to the Dardanelles to make sure 
that freighters carrying grain from south Russia to the city got 
through safely. The commanders drew the entire force up on a 
bare beach on the north shore of the straits near Aegospotami, 
"Goat's River." Because there was no settlement nearby, the crews 
had to straggle off to Sestus, the nearest market, almost two miles 
away, to get food. The enemy fleet camped on the opposite shore 
in front of Lampsacus, a well-stocked city. The next morning both 
sides manned their ships and the Athenians rowed up to the enemy 
formation and offered battle. The Spartan admiral, however, 
shrewdly held off and, after his opponents turned to go back to 
their beach, sent scouts to keep an eye on them and kept his own 
men at battle stations. The same procedure was repeated for four 
days. On the fifth day, when his scouts signaled (by shield, hoisted 
aloft to reflect the sun) that most of the Athenians had beached 

The Wooden Walls 107 

their ships and gone off for food, he pressed in at full speed and, 
without losing a man, seized 171 prizes, probably the most spectacu- 
lar victory in the history of naval warfare. Only nine Athenian 
craft escaped. They happened to be under the command of Conon, 
a gifted naval officer, who managed to man the banks and raise 
sail on his tiny flotilla quickly enough to make a getaway. The 
enemy, stripped for action, had no sailing gear aboard (p. 97) , so 
Conon, boiling along toward the Aegean with the prevailing north- 
easterlies at his back, was able to show his heels to any pursuers. 
He had so much of a head start that, in a move which reminds one 
of the bandits in a Western film who turn loose their victims* 
horses to forestall chase, he took the time to cross the strait, stop 
at the Spartan anchorage for a few minutes, and cart off all the 
sails that had been left there. 

A few months later Athens, with no fleet to secure her lines of 
supply, was starved into submission. 

In the Mediterranean where states of any size had to depend on 
overseas sources for food and the only feasible long-distance com- 
munications were by water, sea power was paramount. Her superb 
ships and tactics had given Athens unchallenged rule of the eastern 
sector for almost a century, from the moment Themistocles had 
brought them on the stage at Salamis to the ludicrous curtain at 
Aegospotami. When she tried to extend her arm farther, to the 
west, she lost everything. Complete control of the Mediterranean 
was something that had to wait until the Romans came along. 

In the years after Aegospotami Athens succeeded in rebuilding 
her fleet more or less on the old model. But changes were in the 
wind. For one, the weakness in cramped waters of the light tri- 
reme, built primarily to ram, was now apparent. For another, after 
the vast losses during the war on both sides adequate crews in suffi- 
cient number were harder than ever to find and because of certain 
factors remained so. Another major development in naval design 
and tactics was soon to take place. 


of Athens 

ONE DAY, SOMETIME TOWARD the end of the Peloponnesian War, a 
pair of Athenian bankers made their way to the slave market in 
front of the temple of Castor and Pollux at Athens. They needed 
another employee, and the personnel of their bank was mostly slave. 
That day they bought a young foreigner named Pasion perhaps 
"Pasion" was as near as they could get to a name unpronounceable 
on a Greek tongue. This new purchase, who trotted dutifully be- 
hind as they tramped the five miles from the city to the office at 
the Peiraeus, Athens' harbor, was eventually to take over their 
bank, become a key figure in the business circles of the port, and 
end up one of the richest men in Athens. 

Pasion was lucky. He might have been bought by some estate 
owner and spent the rest of his life in the farmhand's unvarying 
round of chores, or by some contractor for mine labor and died 
after a few years of backbreaking work underground. Instead 
he landed as an employee of the Antisthenes and Archestratus 
Banking and Loan Company, a position that turned out to be 
uniquely suited to his talents. He probably started at the bottom 
as a porter who handled the heavy bags of coin but rose quickly to 
chief clerk in charge of a moneychanging table at the port. He was 

The Merchants of Athens 109 

quick, accurate, honest and, above all, had a keen eye for spot- 
ting undesirable clients and bad credit risks. As the partners grew 
older they relied more and more on him; they granted him his 
freedom it happened often in those days to slaves who had served 
their masters faithfully and well and finally, when age kept them 
from playing an active part in the business, he took the bank over. 

Pasion prospered. Some of the biggest men in Athens, -military 
and political leaders, were his clients. With shrewd business sense 
and scrupulously kept books, he carried on all the multifarious 
activities of a banker of the fourth century B.C. He received money 
from his clients and kept it on deposit for them. He supplied the 
ancient equivalent of a safe-deposit box by storing their valuables. 
He provided convenient methods of payment for them: although 
the written check had not yet been invented, a depositor could ap- 
pear with a person to whom he wanted funds paid and Pasion 
would transfer the appropriate sum on his books or, if the payee 
came from another city, arrange to have a business contact there 
hand over the money and debit the bank's account. This was no 
ordinary advantage, for it spared the client the risky business of 
transporting cash, especially overseas. 

With his own money as well as that on deposit as working capital, 
Pasion fattened on the profits from moneychanging, on the con- 
servative interest from well-secured loans, and on the juicy returns 
from speculative loans to shippers. As time passed and his capital 
grew, he branched out: he bought ships to charter, and even went 
into the lucrative munitions business by founding a factory to 
manufacture shields. He was always keenly aware of the debt he 
owed the city which had opened up such unique opportunities to 
him* Once he gave the army an outright gift of a thousand shields. 
A rich man was often called upon to serve as trierarch, to equip 
and maintain a trireme for a year (p. 95) ; Pasion on one occasion 
voluntarily signed up for five. His service on behalf of the state 
was finally rewarded by the highest gift she had to offer, citizen- 
ship. And this helped business too, since Pasion could now add 
investment in real estate to the bank's activities. Aliens were not 
allowed to own property in Athens, and for a banker who wasn't a 
citizen to take on mortgages was too risky; he couldn't foreclose in 
case of nonpayment. 

no The Ancient Mariners 

Eventually Pasion got too old to play an active part in the busi- 
ness. When he had to make the five-mile walk from his office at the 
Peiraeus to Athens on business he found it a little too much for 
his aged legs. At this point he ran into the problem that so often 
faces a successful businessman. Of his two sons, one was still a 
minor and the other was too interested in his horses, clothes, and 
courtesans (the ancient equivalent of chorus girls) to be trusted 
with the business; the firm just couldn't become Pasion and Sons and 
prosper. So he did what his former masters had done years before: 
he turned the bank over to his general manager, Phormio, whom he 
himself had bought off the slave block, trained in the business, and 
freed. And, to make sure that the assets stayed in the family, he 
did what quite a few bankers did in those days: he stipulated in 
his will that Phormio was to marry his widow. The bank under its 
new management flourished as it had under Pasion and main- 
tained its reputation for service and square dealing. Phormio, too, 
became one of the richest men in town. 

Athens of the fourth century B.C. was just the time and place 
where a Horatio Alger career like that of Pasion or Phormio could 
happen. Commerce was more vital to the city's existence than it 
ever had been before. In the fifth century Pericles, a soldier and 
statesman, had led Athens in his office as a member of the board of 
generals; one hundred years later her destinies were guided by men 
like Eubulus and Lycurgus, financial experts serving her in the 
office of chancellor of the exchequer. A web of trade routes criss- 
crossed the waters between Marseilles and Kertsch, and bankers 
and shippers and shipowners cooperated in sending over them every 
conceivable sort of product, especially the basic commodities of the 
ancient world: wine, oil, and grain. Traders in Byzantium on the 
Bosporus cocked a wary eye on the crop in Sicily eight hundred 
miles away; rumors of a bad harvest in Egypt sent prices soaring 
on the exchanges of half a dozen Greek cities. At the center of this 
hectic commercial activity stood Athens with its seaport town, the 

When a skipper steered his vessel into the port of the Peiraeus in 
the fifth or fourth century B.C., he headed for a narrow opening be- 
tween two moles that closed the entrance of a capacious harbor. 

The Merchants of Athens 111 

Here he was hailed and boarded by customs officials who looked 
over his cargo, checked the valuation, and levied a toll of 2 per 
cent. Going and coming, ships paid this even on transit goods 
destined for a further port. It was not a protective tariff but simply 
a source of revenue; many a conveniently located Greek seaport 
was able to base a large part of its budget on the collections from 
harbor tolls. The officials kept such precise records that their 
ledgers could be produced in court as evidence of the exact nature 
and amount of cargo a ship had carried. After customs had taken 
its cut, agents came aboard to collect dues for the use of the port 
facilities. There was a way to avoid both tolls and dues if one 
wanted to run the risk: to the north of the port and outside its 
jurisdiction was a quiet cove so well known as a mooring point for 
smugglers that it was called "Thieves' Harbor." 

Once clear of all the red tape, a skipper steered for the right- 
hand side of the harbor. The other side, as well as two smaller bays 
farther on, belonged to the navy and were given over to the long 
roofed sheds that housed the triremes and other war craft. But on 
the right stood the emporion, the commercial part of the port. All 
along the water's edge ran a stone-paved quay where freighters 
made fast. Just behind, parallel to it, were no less than five colon- 
nades. This is where business was done. 

If the newly arrived skipper had a cargo of grain he unloaded at 
the "Long Colonnade," the most extended of the five even as grain 
was the most important item in Athens' import-export business. 
Here he was met by the local grain wholesalers who came up bawl- 
ing out the prices they were willing to offer, as well as by official 
supervisors who were on hand to make sure that governmental 
regulations were observed. Alongside the grain exchange were the 
colonnades where other products were dealt in: jars of Athenian 
olive oil or crocks of her honey or just empty vessels decorated in 
the inimitable Athenian style, for export; jars of wine imported 
from Asia Minor or of preserved fish from the Black Sea, timber 
and pitch from Macedon for the shipyards, and so on. One colon- 
nade was known as the Deigma, the "sample market" or "bazaar," 
and from here rose a babel in every language of the Mediter- 
ranean seaboard as traders laid out miscellaneous wares from all 
quarters and bickered with officials or bargained with dealers. Here 

H2 The Ancient Mariners 

one could buy carpets and pillows from Carthage, seasonings and 
hides and ivory from Libya, flax and hemp for rope and papyrus 
for writing paper from Egypt, rare wines and incense and dates 
from Syria, furniture from Miletus, figs and nuts from Asia Minor 
(slaves, too, from the same area) , pigs and beef and cheese from 
Sicily and Italy. There was usually a seller's market, for, with all 
the intensity of the traffic, it was still the age of the small business- 
man and the organization of supply was haphazard. Hundreds of 
small traders dumped their wares on the docks and haggled over 
prices with hundreds of dealers. Spotted here and there among the 
bewildering varieties of stalls were the tables of the moneychangers, 
and amidst the clamor of hawking and bargaining could be heard 
the clink of coins as sharp-eyed clerks exchanged Persian darks or 
staters from Cyzicus or the coinages of Sicilian cities for Attic 
four-drachma pieces stamped with the old-fashioned picture of 
Athena and her owl that Athens kept using since it was accepted 
everywhere as the trademark of a trustworthy currency. 

From April through the summer the hurly-burly went on at the 
Peiraeus. With the coming of October, winds and weather put a 
close to the sailing season (p. 39) . Moneychangers folded their 
tables, shippers from abroad sailed for home, shipowners hauled 
out their craft onto the beach or bedded them down at the quays, 
stevedores wandered off to the city. Like a summer resort, the 
harbor closed down to wait for spring. 

It was the Persian wars that launched Athens on her career as a 
center for shipping. Before this time cities on or off the coast of 
Asia Minor, such as Chios or Miletus, played the key roles in the 
trade of the east and Corinth in that of the west (pp. 76-82) . 
Aegina, a little island right at Athens' door, had a merchant marine 
that tramped all over the Mediterranean; when King Xerxes was 
organizing his attack on Greece and was scouting the Dardanelles, 
the first thing that met his eye was a convoy of ships from Aegina 
going through loaded with South Russian grain. But when, in the 
wake of the victories over the Persians, Athens created an empire 
which ensured her special privilege in the Greek cities of the 
Aegean, filled her treasury, and enabled her to build up a navy 
that could police the seas, the Peiraeus was gradually transformed 

The Merchants of Athens 113 

into an international entrepot. And Athens maintained her com- 
mercial domination despite the stunning defeat in the Peloponne- 
sian War. Geographically she stood in the center of the Greek 
world: any trader who put in and unloaded would be sure to find 
a return cargo and not have to go home in ballast. She had one of 
the few good natural harbors in the eastern Mediterranean; her 
coinage was still one of the best there was and was accepted in 
every port; there was capital available among her businessmen for 
investment in maritime ventures. So the Peiraeus hummed with 

Far and away the biggest business in Athens was the importing of 
grain. The ancient Greek lived principally off bread and porridge; 
if supplies weren't unloaded regularly on the quays of the Peiraeus 
the populace faced hardship. The same was true of most of the 
larger Greek cities. Intense commercial competition took place in 
this age, with many a clash of interests; it was not over markets in 
which to sell surplus products but over access to supplies essential 
for keeping a city going: grain for food, wine to drink, and olive 
oil which, by itself, did in those days what soap and butter and 
electricity do for us. Athens grew olives; wine could be got nearby; 
but the most important, grain, was available in quantity in only 
three places, all of them far overseas: Egypt, Sicily, and South Rus- 
sia. In the Peloponnesian War Sparta starved Athens into submis- 
sion by destroying her fleet and blockading her port; a little over 
half a century later King Philip of Macedon, the able father of 
Alexander the Great, went about achieving the same result by oc- 
cupying the city of Byzantium and closing the gates of the Bos- 
porus, thereby cutting access to South Russian grain. 

So, to feed themselves, Athens and the other major Greek cities 
required trade on an international scale. But it is necessary to get 
the nature and extent of their commercial activity in proper focus. 
The history of the Greeks in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. is 
so important for its great contributions to the civilization of the 
West that we tend to lose sight of the actual size of the nations and 
the number of people involved. Athens, by far the greatest city of 
Greece, was politically and culturally a mighty place, but her popu- 
lation was certainly not more than 300,000, slaves and foreign resi- 
dents included in other words what in the United States would 

The Ancient Mariners 

qualify as a center of quite moderate size. Less than 100,000 tons 
of grain, some 800 average-sized boatloads, were enough to feed her 
for a year, and some of this, though relatively very little to be sure, 
was grown in her own fields. The activity in importing grain was 
intense the actual shipping had to be crowded into the summer 
sailing season but the totals involved were small. The day of huge 
corporations and government in business on a large scale lay ahead. 
Most of the commerce was in the hands of small traders who 
operated with partners when they couldn't scrape up enough cash 
on their own, who handled one cargo a year, and who traveled on the 
ship along with their goods to make sure that everything went off 
without a hitch. But though the operations were small in scale, 
they were widespread. The banker or merchant at the Peiraeus had 
business contacts in Marseilles or Syracuse or Byzantium. Once, 
during a period of acute grain shortage around 330 B.C., Cleomenes, 
Alexander the Great's governor in Egypt, cornered the market on 
his country's supplies. In Rhodes, a port of call for all ships from 
Egypt, he was able to establish a headquarters where his agents 
could collect, from contacts all over, the latest quotations and, as 
the loaded freighters arrived, divert them to whatever spot was 
offering the highest price. 

It usually took four men of business, each playing a specific role, 
to bring a cargo from the wheatfields of South Russia or Egypt or 
Sicily to the miller at Athens: shipper, shipowner, banker, and 
wholesaler; in many cases it took a pair or group of partners to 
provide the capital for each of the roles. The shipper practically 
always worked on credit and generally with a chartered vessel. He 
contracted with a shipowner for a ship or space on one and then 
borrowed money from some banker like Pasion to pay for the 
freight charges and a load of merchandise. Those who owned their 
own ships pledged them as security, but most put up the cargo 
they intended to buy. Obviously they must have been by and large 
men of integrity, for the banker never saw his security until 
months after the loan was made, when the vessel with its load fi- 
nally docked at the Peiraeus. Interest for this service ran high, 
22 J4 to 30 per cent for the four to five months of the sailing sea- 
son, that is, between 67^ and 90 per cent per annum; but that was 
only natural. There was no insurance in those days; the banker 

The Merchants of Athens 115 

assumed total responsibility if the vessel failed to come back he, 
not the shipper, lost everything so his reward had to be big 
enough to compensate for all risks. And these were considerable 
because, alongside the purely maritime ones, there was the ever 
present possibility of seizure by hostile men-of-war (cf. pp. 82-83) or 
attack by pirates. The same risks plus the lack of any system of in- 
surance made the shippers and shipowners anxious to work as 
much as they could with borrowed funds even when they had 
some of their own; in this way they limited their personal loss 
when a venture ran into trouble. 

Whether a shipper hauled grain to Athens from Sicily or the 
Crimea or Egypt, the voyage was difficult and slow one way, quick 
and easy the other. This is because of the prevailing winds in the 
eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea, which during the ancient 
mariner's sailing season are prevailingly from the north; in the 
Aegean, for example, summer northerlies were so constant that the 
Greeks called them the Etesian, "annual" winds (the Meltem of the 
Turkish sailors today) . A skipper leaving Athens on the Black Sea 
run had to fight his way out there but could boom home with a fol- 
lowing breeze. For those who handled Egyptian grain, the re- 
verse was true: they sailed downhill before northerlies from Athens 
to Rhodes and before northwesterlies from there to Egypt but had 
to work into them all the way back, and the best course they could 
lay was a roundabout one by way of Cyprus; it helped somewhat 
that between Egypt and Rhodes they were willing to sail all year 
round. A skipper headed for Sicily had the wind behind him only as 
far as the southern tip of Greece and from that point on he had to 
tack; conditions were, of course, just the reverse on the homeward 
leg. An ancient freighter could make between four and six knots 
with the wind, only two or a bit more against it. This meant that 
the round trip to Egypt or the Crimea involved about three weeks 
at sea, to Sicily about two. 

After a vessel arrived at the Peiraeus and the customs and port 
charges were paid, a shipper unloaded in the "Long Colonnade" 
and stood by while the wholesale grain dealers, who in turn sold 
to millers or consumers, bid for portions of his cargo. He had to 
get a good price, for this was his one chance to make a profit: what 
with die time consumed at sea and in loading up, generally only 

n6 The Ancient Mariners 

one round trip was fitted in the short sailing season; if the price 
had fallen between the time he purchased his cargo and the day he 
arrived at the Peiraeus, he had to swallow the loss and wait until 
the following year to recoup. When he finally collected from the 
wholesalers, he paid principal and interest to the banker and char- 
tering charges to the shipowner and pocketed as profit what was 

In a system of credit such as this, a great deal depended on the 
integrity of the shipper. The Athenians realized this and, though 
in other fields they were free and easy in making loans, even to 
the extent of turning over cash without papers or witnesses, when 
it came to maritime loans they nailed everything down hard and 
fast in a written contract that tried to anticipate all contingencies. 
But businessmen are the same in all ages and places, and the 
Peiraeus saw its share of shady operations. One favorite was to 
pledge a cargo for a loan from one banker and then, by repledg- 
ing the same security, collect further loans from others. If a man 
could load, transport, and sell a cargo quickly enough to pay off 
the creditors in short order, there was a fair chance the fraud 
would never be discovered. If a shipper, after negotiating a series 
of loans in this way, could inveigle a shipowner into entering a 
deal to arrange a convenient shipwreck, either real if the boat 
wasn't worth much or pretended if it was, both could clear in one 
season more money than they could possibly make in years of 
legitimate business. 

The great orator Demosthenes is best known for the fighting 
political speeches he made before the Athenian Assembly. In pri- 
vate life he was a lawyer, and his clients included a number of 
bankers who had lent money at one time or another to shippers 
who turned out to be unfortunate credit risks. In the gallery of 
rogues whom Demosthenes sued, the most lurid without question 
were a pair named Zenothemis and Hegestratus. Zenothemis was a 
shipper and Hegestratus a shipowner, a partnership which, if dis- 
honest, could prove disastrous to a banker. Both came from Mar- 
seilles; like so many of the men who did business at the Peiraeus 
they were foreigners. The transaction involved in the case began as 
a perfectly legitimate one. Protus, a shipper of Athens, got a loan 
from a banker named Demo, putting up as collateral a cargo of 

The Merchants of Athens 117 

Sicilian grain which he was to buy at Syracuse. He chartered space 
on Hegestratus' ship, left Athens, arrived at Syracuse, bought his 
grain, loaded it aboard, and was ready to leave. So far everything 
was fine. But at this point Hegestratus and Zenothemis swung into 
action. Each made the rounds of the local bankers, raising as many 
loans as he could; when asked about collateral each would glibly 
describe the cargo of grain that lay in the ship at the quay, merely 
omitting the slight detail that it wasn't his. When they had col- 
lected a sizable amount of cash in this way they sent it off to be 
cached in their home town of Marseilles. 

This was one of those swindles in which a shipowner had to take 
part, since it was essential to the scheme to get rid of the grain: if 
that ever arrived at Athens and was sold by Protus, in the normal 
course of events the word would get back to the lenders at Syra- 
cuse and they would sooner or later catch up with the culprits. 
Zenothemis and Hegestratus laid their plans carefully. They waited 
until the ship was two or three days out of Syracuse en route to 
Athens and was coasting along not too far from the island of 
Cephallenia. On a dark night Hegestratus, leaving his partner to 
chat on deck with the passengers, stole down to the hold clutch- 
ing a handsaw, made his way to the ship's bottom planking, and 
started to saw away energetically. Apparently Zenothemis' diversion 
on deck wasn't loud enough, because some of the passengers heard 
the noise below, went down to investigate, and caught Hegestratus 
redhanded. He rushed on deck and, without breaking his stride, 
went straight over the side, intending to grab the ship's boat, which 
was being towed behind, and cut loose; obviously he and his part- 
ner had in mind to use this means of saving their skins if the 
scuttling had gone off as planned. In the dark he missed it and, as 
Demosthenes comments, "met the end he deserved." Zenothemis, 
who was a quick thinker, tried a last-minute tactic: he raced about 
the deck hollering that the ship was going to go down at any min- 
ute and exhorting officers, crew, and passengers to climb into the 
boat and abandon ship. This might have worked except that Protus 
called to the crew that he would reward each one of them hand- 
somely for bringing the vessel in and they stuck by their posts. 
When the voyage finally ended at the Peiraeus, Zenothemis was far 
from through. At Athens he decided to claim that the grain was 

ng The Ancient Mariners 

really his and, when Protus and his banker took it over, hired a 
sea lawyer to sue the two of them for return of "his property." It's 
clear that Demosthenes, who represented the Athenian banker, had 
a tough case on his hands, especially since the creditors at Syra- 
cuse, realizing that they had been swindled and that they could 
recoup only if Zenothemis could acquire some assets, were zeal- 
ously supporting the latter's story. What is more, it seems that at 
the end even Protus made a deal with Zenothemis, since the price 
of grain had dropped by the time he arrived and, after paying off 
his debt and interest and the rewards to the crew, he faced a good- 
sized loss on the whole transaction. We don't know what the court's 
decision was, for all that is preserved is the speech Demosthenes 
wrote for his client. 

Another case that Demosthenes took for a banker was against two 
Lycians who, like Zenothemis and Hegestratus, turned out to be 
lamentable credit risks. This pair made a loan, offering as collateral 
both a cargo of wine which they were to pick up in north Greece 
and deliver to the Black Sea area, and a return cargo of grain which 
they were to load out there. The contract between the parties is 
still extant, and since it is the only document of its kind preserved 
it is worth quoting (I have added the rubrics and parenthetical 
notes) : 

parties: Androcles of Athens [this was Demosthenes" client] 

and Nausicrates of Carystus 

have lent to 
Artemo and Apollodorus of Phaselis [in Lycia, in 

Asia Minor] 

amount: 3,000 drachmas, 

purpose: for a voyage from Athens to Mende or Scione 

[both in north Greece] and thence to Bosporus 
[in the Crimea], or, if they so desire, to the 
north shore of the Pontus [Black Sea] as far as 
the Borysthenes [Dnieper], and thence back 

interest: to Athens, on interest at the rate of 225 drach- 

mas on the 1,000 however, if they should 
leave the Pontus for the return voyage after 
the middle of September [that is, run the 
danger of hitting equinoctial storms], the in- 
terest is to be 300 drachmas on the 1,000 
security: on the security of 3,000 jars of wine of Mende 

time of repayment 
and permissible 

The Merchants of Athens 119 

which shall be conveyed from Mende or 
Scione in the ship of which Hyblesius is owner 
[that is, a chartered vessel]. 
They provide these goods as security, owing 
no money on them to any other person, nor 
will they make any additional loan on this 

They agree to bring back to Athens in 
the same vessel all the goods [certainly 
grain] put on board as a return cargo while 
in the Pontus. 

If the return cargo is brought safely to Athens, 
the borrowers are to pay the lenders the money 
due in accordance with this agreement within 
20 days after they shall have arrived at Athens, 
without deduction save for such jettison as the 
passengers shall have made by common agree- 
ment, or for money paid to enemies [the in- 
evitable pirates] but without deduction for any 
other loss. 

They shall deliver to the lenders all the goods 
offered as security to be under the latter's abso- 
lute control until such time as they themselves 
have paid the money due in accordance with 
the agreement. 

If they shall not pay back within the time 
stipulated the lenders have the right to 
pledge or even to sell the goods for whatever 
price they can get, 

and if the proceeds of the sale fall short of 
the sum the lenders are entitled to in accord- 
ance with the agreement, they have the right 
to collect [the difference] by proceeding, sev- 
erally or jointly, against Artemo and Apollo- 
dorus and against all their property whether 
on land or sea, wherever it may be. 

After several further stipulations the agreement doses with the 
signatures of the parties and witnesses. 

Artemo and Appollodorus neatly managed to break every provi- 
sion in the contract. First they loaded aboard only 450 jars of wine 
instead of the specified 3,000. Next they proceeded to float another 

provisions in 
the event of 

iso The Ancient Mariners 

loan on the same security. Then they left the Black Sea to go back 
to Athens without a return cargo. Finally, on arrival they put in 
not at the port but at the smugglers' cove, the Thieves' Harbor 
(p. 111). Time passed, and the creditors, seeing no sign either of 
their money or of any merchandise which they could attach, con- 
fronted the pair and were blandly told that the cargo had been lost 
in a storm and hence all obligations were off. Fortunately the 
creditors were able to produce sworn depositions from passengers 
and crew that no cargo of wine or grain had been aboard. Again 
we don't know how Demosthenes made out because all we have is 
the speech he wrote for his client. 

One of the more surprising features of commerce in Athens at 
this time is that so many of the men involved were not Athenian. 
The citizen of Athens traditionally invested his capital in land, and 
the law protected this field for him by disqualifying foreigners from 
owning real estate. Occasionally he would take a flier and speculate 
by lending money to a shipper on the security of a cargo, running 
all the risks of losing his investment in a shipwreck or in the shady 
dealings of an unscrupulous borrower on the gamble of a juicy 
return of better than 25 per cent after a few months. Even in the 
frank commercial atmosphere of the fourth century B.C., when 
financial considerations often determined governmental policy and 
the state went out of its way to encourage shippers and brokers, the 
citizen preferred to put his capital in farms and houses. Syrians, 
Phoenicians, Greeks from Marseilles or Syracuse or the seaports of 
Asia Minor, some of them ex-slaves, took care of much of the bank- 
ing, and practically all of the shipping and wholesaling. Many of 
them became "metics," aliens who had established permanent resi- 
dence at Athens. The Athenians, like all Greeks, were too close- 
knit a community to share readily any of their privileges as citi- 
zens; but to mark the metics as a class a cut above out-and-out 
foreigners they magnanimously extended to them the questionable 
joys of partaking in paying taxes and serving in the army. Despite 
this, the metics had a genuine feeling of devotion toward the city. 
For one thing, they were businessmen first and foremost and there 
was money to be made at the Peiraeus. It was one of the few places 
in the ancient world where, like Pasion and Phormio, a man could 

The Merchants of Athens 121 

pull himself up by his own efforts from the bottom of the ladder; 
there were many other metics besides these two who, though they 
started out as slaves and never learned to speak Greek without an 
accent, ended up well-to-do and respected members of the business 
community. For another, these metics and their business contacts 
were a vital link in the city's food supply, and Athens went out of 
her way to look after them. She had to make sure, for example, to 
provide swift and efficient justice for them. So, she opened her 
courts to their cases between November and April when the sailing 
season was over and they had the spare time to bother with legal 
proceedings. She passed a law that cases involving shippers had to 
go on no later than one month after the original complaint had 
been lodged; no trader was to be lured away to sell his grain at 
Corinth or Samos just because Athens had kept him waiting around 
for justice until his name came up on some overcrowded court 
calendar. And, whereas in other cases the penalty usually was a 
fine, those involving shippers carried prison sentences. This helped 
both parties: if a native Athenian won a case against a foreigner, 
the prison sentence guaranteed that the latter couldn't settle mat- 
ters in his own way by taking off in his ship without paying judge- 
ment; conversely, if the Athenian lost, the fear of prison made him 
pay up promptly and not compel the foreigner, whose home might 
be hundreds of miles away, to hang around Athens and go through 
all the red tape involved in collecting on the judgement. 

The city was even prepared to grant some of the privileges of 
citizenship, or even the citizenship itself, to those businessmen who 
had demonstrated over the years their loyalty and dedication to 
her interests. This was the way ex-slaves like Pasion and Phormio 
got to be citizens. It took a special act of congress to do it, but 
Athens found it prudent to be liberal with such acts. She had to 
be: there were plenty of other cities ready to come across, par- 
ticularly when bad harvests gave the grain-shippers even more 
leverage than they normally had. 

The grain trade of Athens was too vital to the city's well-being 
to be left completely in the hands of private businessmen. Yet the 
government had neither the administrative machinery nor the de- 
sire to take over any part of the actual operations. It did the next 

122 The Ancient Mariners 

best thing: it exercised careful control. The Peiraeus, because of 
its location and facilities was, like London or New York, a central 
clearing point: loads of merchandise came into the harbor which 
were simply in transit, destined for consignees farther on. The gov- 
ernment passed a series of stringent decrees to make sure that enough 
grain to feed the city resisted the lure of higher prices elsewhere. 
Of any cargo that entered the port, only one-third could be trans- 
shipped; the rest had to stay on the dock. No Athenian, either citi- 
zen or me tic, could import grain to any place other than Athens: in 
other words, only out-and-out foreigners could handle transit grain. 
No Athenian, citizen or metic, could lend money on a grain cargo 
destined for any place other than Athens: in other words, Athenian 
capital was to be used for Athenian benefit. The regulations didn't 
end with the shipper. When the cargo arrived each wholesaler was 
allowed to buy only fifty measures (probably about seventy-five 
bushels) ; this kept ambitious dealers from cornering the market 
at any time. There were, of course, dealers and shippers who were 
willing to break the law, but it was risky business since the penalties 
were severe. At times even all these precautions didn't ensure an 
adequate supply, and then the city was forced to step in and take 
an active part. She appointed special boards of grain purchasers to 
buy supplies at any cost in the open market which they then sold 
at normal prices to the citizen. The princelings who controlled the 
rich grainlands of South Russia were always collecting statues and 
elaborate expressions of thanks from the Athenian Assembly by 
giving the city cargoes of wheat gratis, by granting loading priority 
to ships headed for Athens, or by canceling the port dues for them. 
A sure-fire way for a foreigner to get honors at Athens, or at any 
Greek city that lived off imported grain, was by contributing to her 
grain fund, by giving her a gift of grain, or by just selling some to 
her at the normal price during a scarcity. Here, for example, is the 
text of a resolution that was moved and passed by the Athenian 
Assembly in 325 B.C. (the Athenian government recorded the bills 
it passed on imperishable stone instead of paper and archaeologists 
have dug up hundreds of them) : 

Motion put by Demosthenes, son of Democles: 

Whereas Heracleides of Salamis [the town in Cyprus] has continuously 
shown his dedication to the interests of the People of Athens 

The Merchants of Athens 12 q 

and done for them whatever benefactions lay within his power, 

on one occasion, during a period of scarcity of grain, 
he was the first of the shippers to return to the 
port, and he voluntarily sold the city 3,000 medimni 
[4,500 bushels] at a price of 5 drachmas per measure [the 
market price was probably in the neighborhood of 16], and 
on another occasion, when voluntary contributions were 
being collected, he donated 3,000 drachmas to the 
grain purchase fund, and 
in all other respects he has continually shown his 

goodwill and dedication to the people, 

be it resolved that official commendation be extended to Heracleides, 
son of Charicleides, of Salamis, and 

that he receive a gold crown for his good will and de- 
dication to the interests of the People of Athens, 
that he and his offspring be declared an Accredited 
Representative and a Benefactor of the People of 
that they have the right to own land and buildings, 

subject to the limits of the law, and 
that they have the right to undertake military service 
and the payment of property taxes in common with 
Athenian citizens. 

Be it further resolved that the secretary currently in office have 
a record of this motion and others ancillary to it inscribed 
on a stone slab and set up on the acropolis, and 
that the treasurer provide for this purpose 30 drachmas 
from the appropriate funds. 

The stone, as the last section indicates, also records a companion 
motion passed by the Senate which, includes two additional interest- 
ing pieces of information, that the crown is to cost five hundred 
drachmas and that once, when the ruler of the town of Heraclea 
on the Black Sea tried to keep Heracleides from sailing to Athens 
by confiscating his sails, the Athenians stepped in immediately and 
dispatched a representative (with fifty drachmas officially voted for 
expenses) to lay down the law. 

Obviously Heracleides was a man to cultivate. In the cases 
Demosthenes took, the cargoes involved were never worth more 
than 9,000 drachmas and usually half that; here was someone who 

124 T* 16 Ancient Mariners 

handled cargoes worth 15,000 drachmas and, on behalf o the city, 
was willing to forego a clear profit of 33,000. No wonder Athens 
sent an official representative at government expense when he got 
into trouble. 

Heracleides' little incident at Heraclea reveals another and very 
important problem that the government had to contend with. The 
grain did nobody any good until it arrived at the Long Colonnade, 
and there were unscrupulous competitors, like the Heracleote ruler, 
and pirates loose all over the seas. One of the reasons the Peiraeus 
was so important a center for the grain trade was that Athens had 
a navy large enough to supply escorts to convoy fleets of freighters, 
especially those that sailed from South Russia through the Bosporus 
and Dardanelles. Although no serious battles took place during a 
large part of the fourth century B.C., the Athenian navy at this 
time counted more units than it ever did during the bitterly fought 
Peloponnesian War. No less than four hundred warcraft of various 
sizes lay in the naval base at the Peiraeus. To keep this armada in 
repair, the city controlled the trade in timber and naval supplies 
as carefully as grain. Because most of the wood and pitch came from 
the pine forests of Macedon and Thrace, Athens forced the local 
rulers to sign treaties guaranteeing sale of their products to her 
and no other state. They had very little choice in the matter inas- 
much as Athens' fleet controlled the waters right up to their shores. 
A tiny island named Ceos had only one exportable product, ruddle, 
a substance used in paint; she was bound by treaty to turn her 
total output over to the city. The Athenians were thorough. 

The size of Athens' naval forces is deceptive. Of her four hundred 
vessels, many were not in shape to put to sea and of those that were, 
many had to be left in their slips because there were no crews 
to man them. Athens and every other Greek city that maintained a 
navy was plagued by a shortage of rowers. The Greek citizen of the 
commercially minded fourth century wasn't as willing as his fifth 
century ancestor had been to spend the better part of his days in 
military service. Athens' military leaders now included hired pro- 
fessionals, like the condottieri of fourteenth and fifteenth century 
Italy, who signed on along with their own following of mercenaries. 
This meant that the labor force which used to be available only to 

The Merchants of Athens 125 

the fleet now had a chance to enroll in the army, and they seized 
it with alacrity; the life was far easier than on the rowing benches 
and a man stood a fair chance of fattening his salary with loot or 
booty. The trierarchs, those rich men who were required to equip 
and keep a trireme in fighting condition for a year (p. 95) , were 
hard put to keep the rowing benches filled. "Many of my crew," 
complains a trierach in 360 B.C V "jumped ship; some went off to the 
mainland to hire out as mercenaries, some went off to the navies of 
Thasos and Maroneia which not only promised them a better wage 
but paid them some cash down in advance. . . . There was more 
desertion on my ships than on those of the other trierarchs since I 
had the best rowers. . . . My men, knowing they were skilled oars- 
men, went off to take jobs wherever they figured they could get the 
highest pay." The situation grew so serious that it ultimately re- 
sulted in one of the greatest changes in fighting ships that took 
place in the ancient world. For the details we must leave Athens for 
a moment and turn westward. 

Just about the time when Sparta and her allies were closing in 
on Athens for the kill that was to end the Peloponnesian War (see 
p. 106) , off in Syracuse an astute, hardheaded political opportunist 
was taking the first steps in building up a powerful and sizable em- 
pire. Dionysius was a canny statesman, a practical and unscrupulous 
politician and, above all, a soldier who regarded warfare as a 
science. In the field he reorganized the traditional army unit and 
devised new tactics for it; he learned the techniques of oriental 
siegecraft from his Carthaginian enemies and bettered them by de- 
signing enormously powerful catapults. And, on the sea, he revolu- 
tionized naval design by launching in 398 B.C. the first ships in 
which one man no longer handled one oar as in the trireme, but 
four or five rowers pulled at long sweeps. With such an army and 
navy he was able to fashion an empire that covered nearly all of 
Sicily and much of south Italy. His galleys swept the Tyrrhenian 
Sea and the Adriatic free of pirates; traders from the Peiraeus were 
able to import Sicilian grain without molestation. 

The new type of warship we shall treat the details later (p. 145) 
did not catch on immediately. Although Athenian naval observers 
must have kept a careful eye on what was going on in the Syra- 
cusan shipyards, there was no need for them to urge any quick 

12 6 The Ancient Mariners 

changes. Dionysius was too occupied in the west to be any threat 
himself, and Athens' enormous fleet of triremes had no serious rival 
in the east; there was no pressing reason to undertake the expense 
of immediate wholesale conversion. But the new types were grad- 
ually introduced into the squadrons: the inventory records of the 
Athenian dockyards are preserved for the year 330 B.C. and they list 
392 triremes and 18 quadriremes, ships with four men to an oar; by 
325 B.C. the number of triremes had dropped to 360, there were 50 
quadriremes and, in addition, 7 quinqueremes, vessels with five 
men to each oar. Within a few decades the new types had become 
standard in all navies. 

There was a practical reason for the introduction of such units: 
it was one way of meeting the growing shortage of skilled rowers. 
It took 170 men to fill the benches of a trireme, and each had to be 
a trained oarsman. But on a ship where a number of men handled 
a single oar, only one had to be skilled; the others followed his lead 
and were needed only for their muscle. 

Changes were in store for the ancient merchantman, too, but they 
were not to come to pass for another century (p. 174) . In this age 
freighters were much as they had always been, beamy vessels pro- 
pelled by one large squaresail, although now they began to reach 
respectable size. Those that brought grain to Athens or were the 
standard carriers for the bulky cargoes of wine and oil very likely 
held 130 tons on an average, and vessels capable of hauling 250 were 
not uncommon. (What their dimensions were is anybody's guess; 
the smaller American coastal packets of the first half of the nine- 
teenth century, which had a carrying capacity in the neighborhood 
of 250 tons, ran 80 to 85 feet long, 23 to 25 wide, and 11 to 12 feet 
deep in the hold.) These were, of course, the queens of the sea: 
they made their runs with a minimum of stops en route, they sailed 
in fleets, and they were often given an escort of warships which, 
besides protecting them, would throw over a line when the wind 
was foul and tow them to make sure they got through. The ordinary 
workhorse freighter of the Mediterranean was not so large nor so 
well treated: it probably carried about eighty tons or so on an 
average; it tramped leisurely from port to port picking up and de- 
livering any and every sort of cargo, and it took its chances on wind, 
weather, and pirates. 

The Merchants of Athens 127 

The speed of ancient merchantmen depended on the wind: when 
it was favorable, blowing over the stern or quarters, a ship could do 
between four and six knots; against it, only about two or a bit 
more. A shipowner generally accompanied his vessel on voyages but 
left its handling to the kybernetes, his hired captain, and a crew of 
slaves. Skippers still navigated by stars at night and by landmarks 
and wind direction and "feel" by day, but now they had one new 
useful aid: sometime about the middle of the fourth century B.C. 
a geographer named Scylax the Younger published the first Periplus, 
"Coast Pilot," a volume that described the circuit of the Mediter- 
ranean, naming ports and rivers, giving distances between points, 
telling where fresh water was available, and so on. 

In 322 B.C V the year after Alexander the Great died, Athens fought 
two major actions in the Aegean. The shortage of rowers was fatal 
for her: though there were four hundred craft in her slips, she 
couldn't man half of them; she entered the second, the battle of 
Amorgos, outnumbered 170 ships to 240. Her navy was shattered 
and, with startling abruptness, her career as a great seapower came 
to a close forever. 

The victor was Alexander's fleet, now under the control of one 
of his successors. Alexander's blazing career profoundly changed 
the world of the fourth century B.C. His conquests almost overnight 
brought into existence new great nations and with them new trad- 
ing centers and routes. Business went on at the Peiraeus the city, 
after all, had an excellent harbor and its populace still had to eat. 
But Alexander's work shifted forever the focus and nature of com- 
merce and left Athens on its edge and no longer at its center. 

the Pillars 
of Hercules 

JUST ABOUT THE TIME that Athen's sea power was disintegrating in 
battle in the Aegean (p. 127) , far to the west, in the harbor of 
Marseilles, maritime history of a different kind was being made: 
Pytheas, the most gifted of the ancient mariners, was setting off on 
a voyage of exploration that for daring and length was not to be 
matched until the days of Da Gama and Columbus. 

Pytheas' expedition did not come out of the blue. It came, as a 
matter of fact, toward the end of a series of bold ventures out of the 
Mediterranean into the ocean. 

After Jason had led the way to the Black Sea (pp. 58-64) and the 
Phoenicians had opened up Spain (p. 71) , the tide of exploration 
ebbed for a while. Skippers busied themselves investigating the 
nooks and crannies of the newly opened areas. In the west, Phoe- 
nician and Carthaginian traders in tin from Cornwall poked their 
noses past the Pillars of Hercules, those landmarks that flanked 
the Strait of Gibraltar, only as far as Cadiz (p. 71) and left the 
ocean portion of the transport for native craft; in the east no one 
tried to challenge the monopoly of Indians, Arabs, and other locals 
who plied the Indian Ocean (pp. 5-9) . Then from the beginning of 

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 12g 

the sixth century on, seamen, as if bored with the Mediterranean, 
turned their attention to the waters that lay outside it. 

Early in the seventh century B.C. Egypt, which up to then had 
gradually become suspicious of foreigners, opened its doors to Greek 
and Phoenician traders. Pharaoh Necho (610-594 B.C.) went further 
and dug out the old canal between the Nile and the Red Sea (p. 10) , 
which had silted up over the years, in order to facilitate communi- 
cations between the Mediterranean and southern waters. Then, 
with his eye no doubt on profits in new sources of trade from this 
quarter, he made a bold move: he fitted out an expedition to under- 
take nothing less than a circumnavigation of Africa from east to 
west, from the Red Sea clockwise around the continent, through 
the Strait of Gibraltar and back to Egypt. He entrusted it to Phoe- 
nicians, presumably the best qualified to carry out such a voyage. 

Homer had described the world as an island encircled by a river 
called Ocean, and Greeks in Necho's day were convinced that water 
surrounded Europe and Africa; it is hard to say whether this was 
deduced from sailors' reports or whether, since Homer was their 
bible, they just took his word for it. However, they had no idea 
Africa extended as far south as it does; they conceived of it as a 
rectangle running east-west, and thought that once a ship got a 
little south of Ethiopia it could make a right turn and skirt, along 
the bottom of the continent, a shore that paralleled the Mediter- 
ranean coast along the top. No doubt Necho's Phoenicians believed 
this too, and agreed to attempt the expedition partly, at least, be- 
cause they considerably underestimated its length. (One of the 
reasons for Columbus' confidence was that he reckoned the circum- 
ference of the globe one-quarter less than its true size.) 

There was only one ancient writer to describe this remarkable 
voyage, the sharp-eyed Greek traveler Herodotus (p. 68) who some- 
where or other during a tour of Egypt picked up the story. His ac- 
count doesn't amount to much more than a paragraph; here are 
his words (with modern equivalents substituted for his geographi- 
cal names) : 

Africa, except where it borders Asia, is clearly surrounded by water. 
Necho, Pharaoh of Egypt, was the first we know of to demonstrate this. 
When he finished digging out the canal between the Nile and the Red 
Sea, he sent out a naval expedition manned by Phoenicians, instructing 



Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 131 

them to come home by way of the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediter- 
ranean and in that fashion get back to Egypt. So, setting out from the 
Red Sea, the Phoenicians sailed into the Indian Ocean. Each autumn 
they put in at whatever point of Africa they happened to be sailing by, 
sowed the soil, stayed there until harvest time, reaped the grain, and 
Bailed on; so that two years went by and it wasn't until the third that 
they doubled the Pillars of Hercules and made it back to Egypt. And 
they reported things which others can believe if they want but I cannot, 
to wit, that in sailing around Africa they had the sun on the right side. 

Hundreds of pages have been written about this bald paragraph, 
debating the truth of the story, questioning whether such a tre- 
mendous feat had actually been accomplished. Two centuries after 
it was written, Polybius, one of the finest ancient historians and an 
African explorer himself, registered his doubts. Many, perhaps a 
majority, of modern scholars are also unconvinced. 

On one point most agree: a voyage such as Herodotus describes 
was feasible. There is no reason why a crew of Phoenicians could 
not have carried it out in the span of time and in the way he said 
they did. They could have started late in autumn and, after rowing 
against the northeast monsoon and the current of the Red Sea, 
turned south beyond Cape Guardafui where wind and current 
would be favorable. Soon they would have picked up the Mozam- 
bique current, then the Agulhas current around the Cape of Good 
Hope. Here they could have stopped, sown wheat in June and har- 
vested in November, just a year after starting. Favorable current 
and south winds would carry them up the west coast of Africa, and 
the current would be in their favor along the Gulf of Guinea to 
Cape Palmas, although they would be held up by calms and 
troubled by torrid heat in this stretch. From Cape Palmas they 
would have to row against the northeast tradewind and the Canaries 
current to Morocco where they could land and sow again, at this 
point near the end of their second year out. They could reap in 
June, head for the Strait of Gibraltar and, once inside, the home- 
ward leg helped by wind and current would go quickly. 

Even if the skeptics are right and Necho's Phoenicians did not 
actually circumnavigate the continent, some sort of expedition must 
have been launched and, judging from Herodotus' details about 
crops sown en route, a carefully planned one at that. What is more, 

ig2 The Ancient Mariners 

it must have made its way beyond the tropic to a point where the 
crew was able to report they had the sun on the right side, that is, 
to the north of them as they worked southwest and west. The very 
item Herodotus singles out for disbelief is the most convincing 
element in his account. 

The next attempt to sail around Africa was made the other way, 
from west to east, and there is no doubt whatsoever that it was a 
failure. Again Herodotus tells the story and this time he mentions 
his informant, although he is reticent about his name: when the 
explorer died, one of his eunuchs absconded to Samos with a lot 
of his money and there, writes Herodotus, "a certain Samian got 
his hands on it. I know the man's name perfectly well but I shall 
willingly forget it here." The voyage, it seems, started as the result 
of a scandal at the court of King Xerxes (485-465 B.C.) , the same 
one who spent that unsettling day watching the defeat of his fleet 
off Salamis (p. 89) . His cousin Sataspes had violated one of the 
court ladies. Xerxes was ready to carry out the appropriate punish- 
ment, namely impaling, but the boy's mother suggested he be 
sent on a trip around Africa instead. The king had no objection 
to this he probably figured the end result would be the same so 

Sataspes went to Egypt, got a ship and crew there, and made for the 
Straits of Gibraltar. Passing through them and doubling Cape Spartel, 
he headed south [all the ancient geographers were convinced that the 
Atlantic coast of Morocco trended south, even southeast, instead of south- 
west]. After sailing for many months over a vast amount of water and 
always finding that he had to keep going further, he put about and made 
his way back to Egypt. From here he returned to Xerxes and reported 
that, at the farthest point he reached, he sailed by a dwarfed race who 
wore clothes of palm leaves and left their villages to flee to the mountains 
whenever the boat put in at the shore, and that he and his men did them 
no harm but only went in and took some of their cattle. Moreover, the 
reason he didn't sail all around Africa was that the ship stopped and 
just couldn't go any further. 

This turned out to be most unfortunate for Sataspes personally 
since, on the grounds that he had not completed the assignment, 
Xerxes went ahead with the original sentence and had him impaled. 
It sounds very much as if Sataspes got south of the Sahara, as far 
as Senegal or even Guinea, where he saw Negro tribes, perhaps 

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 133 

Bushmen living farther north at that time than they do today, and 
then either ran into the calms and hostile current of the Gulf of 
Guinea or the adverse winds and currents beyond. As a matter of 
fact, wind and current make the circumnavigation of Africa from 
east to west, the way Necho's Phoenicians set out to do it, far 
easier; although a number of ancient mariners after Sataspes tried 
the west to east voyage, they all failed. Vasco da Gama in the fif- 
teenth century was the first to turn the trick. 

Necho's expedition and Sataspes' were purely voyages of explora- 
tion, probably launched with an eye to opening up new trade routes. 
About a century after Necho some scholars think before 500 B.C., 
others after 480 another venture outside the Strait of Gibraltar 
along Africa was made, this time as part of a grandiose scheme for 
colonization; perhaps word of this journey, reaching the Persian 
court, induced Xerxes to send out Sataspes. It is the best known 
voyage of discovery made by the ancients and there is no doubt 
about its genuineness, for we have the exact words of a report sub- 
mitted by the commander, Hanno of Carthage. He had it inscribed 
in bronze and set up in his home town, and years later an inquisi- 
tive Greek made a copy which has come down to us. 

"The Carthaginians commissioned Hanno to sail past the Pillars 
of Hercules and to found cities of the Libyphoenicians [Phoenicians 
residing in Africa]. He set sail with sixty vessels of fifty oars and a 
multitude of men and women to the number of thirty thousand, and 
provisions and other equipment." So begins Hanno's report, a docu- 
ment of less than 650 words which over the centuries has provoked 
several hundred thousand of explanation, comment, and argument 

If the whole expedition had been put aboard sixty penteconters, 
the ships would have quietly settled on the harbor bottom instead 
of leaving Carthage; a penteconter barely had room to carry a few 
days' provisions for its crew, to say nothing of a load of passengers 
with all the equipment they needed to start life in a colony. The 
penteconters were only the escort of warships and scouting craft; 
the colonists must have tagged along in a good-sized fleet of 
merchantmen. Very likely there were far less than thirty thousand. 
The Greek manuscripts that we have today are all the result of suc- 
cessive copyings over the centuries by scribe after scribe, and 

134 The Ancient Mariners 

numerals, since they can rarely be checked by the context, are par- 
ticularly liable to miscopying. 

In following Hanno's narrative, the prime difficulty lies in identi- 
fying the places he records. Almost all the names he uses mean noth- 
ing to us today; there was no system available to him of identifying 
points by latitude and longitude (not used by geographers until 
over two centuries later) ; and the physical details he records are not 
always numerous and specific enough to make identification certain. 
He had clear sailing at the beginning and so do we: there is no ques- 
tion that his first leg was through the strait and southwest along 
the Moroccan shore where he kept dropping off batches of colonists 
who founded half a dozen settlements. At the mouth of the Draa 
River he made friends with a local tribe of nomads, probably 
Berbers, and, since they were familiar with the coast further south, 
he took some aboard as guides and interpreters. 

His very next step brings us to the knottiest point in the narrative. 
Some time after the interpreters joined him, Hanno led his fleet 
into a deep easterly gulf at the head of which he came upon "a 
small island with a circuit of five stades (about half a mile) . Here 
we founded a colony named Cerne. We estimated from the distance 
traversed that it lay in a line with Carthage; for the distance from 
Carthage to the Pillars and from there to Cerne was the same." Most 
modern commentators think that Hanno's Cerne is Herne Island, 
a little north of the Tropic of Cancer; the relative distances, from 
Carthage to Gibraltar, and from there to Herne Island, are just 
about the same. But some argue that Hanno's estimate of the mile- 
age he covered, being based solely on elapsed sailing time and his 
best guess as to his average speed, was off and that Cerne is a 
good deal farther along, at the mouth of the Senegal River. For, 
from Cerne Hanno "sailed through the delta of a big river, named 
the Chretes, and came to a lake containing three islands larger than 
Cerne. From there we accomplished one day's sail and arrived at 
the head of the lake. . . . Sailing on from that point we came to an- 
other deep and wide river, which was infested with crocodiles and 
hippopotami. Thence we turned back to Cerne." The crocodile- 
filled river can only be the Senegal. The question is how far does 
it lay from Cerne and, if Cerne is really Herne Island, which is a 
good five hundred miles north of the Senegal, why did Hanno back- 

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 135 

track that much? It sounds rather as if Cerne was at the mouth of 
the Senegal and that Hanno did not retrace any steps but simply 
left off coasting for a while to investigate the interior, sailing inland 
by one arm of the Senegal and returning to Cerne at the mouth 
by another. The identification doesn't fit in too well with the num- 
ber of days Hanno mentions that it took him to get from point to 
point, but none of the identifications offered does so completely; 
moreover, as mentioned above, figures are always the least trust- 
worthy element in these accounts. 

Leaving Cerne a second time, the expedition resumed its voyage 
along the coast, passing Negro tribes who fled at their approach and 
whose speech the interpreters couldn't understand. They took two 
days to double a promontory marked by wooded mountains, prob- 
ably Cape Verde, the westernmost point of Africa. Then they 
came to 

a great gulf, which according to the interpreters was called the West 
Horn. In it lay a large island, and in the island a marine lake containing 
another island. Landing on the smaller island, we could see nothing but 
forest, and by night many fires being kindled, and we heard the noise of 
pipes and cymbals and a din of tom-toms and the shouts of a multitude. 
We were seized with fear, and our interpreters told us to leave the island. 

We left in a hurry and coasted along a country with a fragrant smoke 
of blazing timber, from which streams of fire plunged into the sea. The 
land was unapproachable for heat. 

So we sailed away in fear, and in four days' journey saw the land ablaze 
by night. In the center a leaping flame towered above the others and 
appeared to reach the stars. This was the highest mountain we saw: it 
was called the Chariot of the Gods. 

Following the rivers of fire for three further days, we reached a gulf 
named the Southern Horn. In the gulf lay an island like the previous 
one, with a lake, and in it another island. The second island was full of 
wild people. By far the greater number were women with hairy bodies. 
Our interpreters called them Gorillas. We gave chase to the men but 
could not catch any, for they all scampered up steep rocks and pelted us 
with stones. We secured three women, who bit and scratched and re- 
sisted their captors. But we killed and flayed them, and brought the hides 
to Carthage. 

This was the end of our journey, owing to lack of provisions. 

Hanno was the first to record the sort of things that today are com- 

136 The Ancient Mariners 

monplace in explorers' reports from Africa: the jungle, the beating 
of tom-toms, the enormous grass fires that natives kindle to burn 
off stubble and help the following year's crops, the ubiquitous 
monkeys. Hanno's Gorillas can't be what we know by that name; 
his men were tough but they weren't up to catching gorillas, even 
females, alive. Chimpanzees or baboons are the best guess. (It was 
an American missionary, Thomas Savage, who in 1847 applied 
Hanno's term to what we now call gorillas.) 

Just how far did Hanno get? Most geographers hold that he 
stopped short of the calms and heat of the Gulf of Guinea and 
pushed no further than Sierra Leone, that the West Horn is Bis- 
sagos Bay, that the Chariot of the Gods is Mount Kakulima in 
French Guinea which, although relatively low (ca. 3000 feet), 
stands out in the midst of low-lying ground, and that the Southern 
Horn is Sherboro Sound. Others take him as far as the Cameroons, 
arguing that the Chariot of the Gods is better identified with Mount 
Cameroon, the tallest peak in West Africa (13,370 feet) and a vol- 
cano to boot. In either case, the voyage was a milestone in geo- 
graphical discovery. Hanno, in one summer he seems to have spent 
less than fifty days under sail on the outward leg penetrated far- 
ther than anyone was to get for two thousand years, carried out his 
original mission of founding colonies, and got back without mishap. 
Nor did his work die with him: the settlements he planted lasted 
for centuries and were only abandoned probably after Rome had 
destroyed Carthage itself in 146 B.C. Scylax the Younger in his 
"Coast Pilot" (p. 127) reports that at Cerne, Hanno's furthest 
outpost, Phoenicians were conducting a thriving trade in his day. 
One of the tasks for archaeologists is to investigate the sites in ques- 
tion to see if any traces of these merchants can be found. They 
probably lived in jerry-built houses which would leave no vestige, 
but there is a good chance they buried their dead in typically Car- 
thaginian tombs which would remain and are easy to identify. 

For over a century after the return of Sataspes and Hanno, no 
further attempts were made outside the Mediterranean. The Cartha- 
ginians were satisfied to exploit the settlements Hanno had founded, 
and their hold on the Strait of Gibraltar kept others out of the 
Atlantic. Then, as the fourth century B.C. drew to a dose, Pytheas 

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 137 

of Marseilles entered the picture. He slipped through the blockade 
and was off on a unique and daring voyage of discovery. 

"In fact there is no star at the pole but an empty space dose to 
which lie three stars; these, taken with the point of the pole, make 
a rough quadrangle, as Pytheas of Marseilles tells us." It is only 
through such stray notices as this, scattered among the writings 
of ancient astronomers and geographers, that we know of this re- 
markable mariner, so accomplished a navigator that he was the first 
to observe that the polestar did not mark true north, and so skillful 
a seaman that he sailed to a quarter of the globe as unknown then 
as America was in Columbus' day, and returned safely. 

Pytheas was a native of Marseilles, the city which those doughty 
seamen the Phocaeans founded (p. 81) and which grew and stayed 
rich through overseas trade. He made an epoch-making voyage, but 
nothing written by his own hand survives, just excerpts made by 
those who had access to his writings, many of whom were convinced 
he was an out-and-out liar and only mentioned what he said to 
scoff at it. They would have done better to take him seriously. 
Pytheas was no charlatan but the most scientific seaman of the 
ancient world. 

Besides determining the true position of the polestar, he calcu- 
lated the latitude of his home town and came within a shade of 
getting it right (43 3' instead of 43 17' N) . He took observations 
of the sun during his voyage which helped later geographers to 
establish a number of parallels of latitude. He was the first to notice 
the connection between the moon and the tides. He was the first 
to use the name "Britain." For centuries, whatever was known of 
the northern regions Brittany, Ireland, the British Isles, and the 
North Sea was derived from his observations. 

Sometime during the decades before 300 B.C V Pytheas sailed out of 
the harbor of Marseilles, headed his prow westward, and got under 
way on a voyage that was not to end until he had gone around 
Spain to the British Isles and beyond. One of his reasons for going 
was certainly scientific, to explore and to collect astronomical data, 
but this cannot be the whole explanation. He was not wealthy 
enough to finance such a voyage on his own, so he must have got 
backing from the merchants of Marseilles. Yet it's hard to imagine 

138 The Ancient Mariners 

that they would put up hard cash in return for some abstruse geo- 
graphical findings. It is more than likely that they did it in order 
to get information about the source of tin. This was one of their 
prized objects of trade. It reached the city from somewhere up north 
but only overland through France; the cheap sea route around 
Spain was a monopoly of the Carthaginian merchants of Cadiz 
(pp. 71, 82). If Pytheas could come up with some way to circumvent 
them or somehow to increase the supply, his trip would be worth 
every penny it cost. 

Like all ancient voyages of exploration, Pytheas' is full of prob- 
lems and the very first is how he managed to evade the Carthaginian 
blockade at Gibraltar. Possibly his timing was right: he may have 
picked one of the years between 310 and 306 B.C. when Carthage, 
locked in a bitter struggle with the Greeks of Sicily, may have 
dropped her guard at the strait. Like Hanno's, the first leg of his 
journey is clear enough. He skirted the Atlantic coast of Spain and 
the shores of the Bay of Biscay, doubled the northwest tip of 
Brittany and reached the Breton coast. From here he crossed the 
channel to Cornwall and absolved some of his obligations to his 
backers by reporting on the tin mining there. He watched the 
workers excavate ore along galleries, smelt and refine it, and ham- 
mer it into cube-shaped ingots for shipment. 

Probably his next step was to circumnavigate Britain. This en- 
abled him to report, correctly enough, that the island was shaped 
like a triangle, its three points being Belerium (Land's End), 
Cantium (Kent) , and Orca (the northern tip of Scotland just be- 
low the Orkney Islands) . He estimated the length of the sides of 
this triangle, getting the proportions right (3:6:8) but just about 
doubling their total extent. The only means for measuring at his 
disposal was by reckoning the time spent in sailing, and he must 
have overrated his speed; most ancient explorers did. He established 
the location of Britain ("it extends obliquely along Europe") and 
probably of Ireland, and made several visits into the interior of 
the former to observe the inhabitants. 

So far it has been relatively easy to follow Pytheas' track. Now the 
trouble begins. At some point during his voyage he heard of or 
perhaps even visited an "Island of Thule" which, he reported, lay 
six days' sail north of Britain and only one day south of the "frozen" 

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules 139 

sea and the sun there went down for only two or three hours at 
night. It was surrounded by some mysterious substance which he 
actually saw but of which he gives an obscure and puzzling descrip- 
tion; he may possibly be referring to the heavy sea fogs common in 
these regions. No known place fits his description in all respects but 
there are only two real possibilities: Iceland or Norway. In one part 
of his report Pytheas observed that some of the people in the 
northern regions grow oats (which he calls millet; he had probably 
never seen oats back home) and brew a drink of grain and honey. 
If he is referring to the people of Thule, then Thule must be 
Norway because Iceland is too far north for oats and bees. The fact 
that Norway is not an island poses no problem; discoverers of new 
regions often mistake a piece of mainland for an island. 

Pytheas crossed the Channel from Britain back to the Breton 
shore and then proceeded to skirt the coast eastward, a journey that 
took him past an enormous estuary and to an island where amber 
was so plentiful the natives used it for fuel. This part of his travels 
has led to the wildest guesses of all; some commentators have taken 
him right around Denmark into the Baltic, a source of amber 
since prehistoric times. But it is more likely that Pytheas got no 
further than the North Sea, that his estuary was that of the Elbe 
and his island Heligoland, also a depot for amber. 

When Pytheas finally dropped anchor in the harbor of Marseilles, 
he had covered between 7,000 and 7,500 miles, as much as Columbus 
had on his first voyage. He had completed one of the most daring 
feats of navigation made in any age and, from the point of view 
of the world's knowledge, a most important one: for centuries 
geographers depended for information about northern countries on 
his data. He opened their eyes to the fact that lands which lay so 
far north that everyone believed they were barren wastes were 
habitable. It is not strange that armchair geographers, knowing 
nothing of the effect of the Gulf Stream and the moist Atlantic 
winds on climate, found the facts he reported hard to believe. 

There is some slight evidence that his backers received dividends 
on their investment: the tin trade, from Cornwall across the Channel 
to Brittany and from there across France to Marseilles, seems to 
have increased somewhat as a result of his undertaking. But no- 
body followed in his footsteps. The Carthaginians once again closed 

140 The Ancient Mariners 

the gates of Gibraltar and shut off the Atlantic to further explora- 

Even when they were opened after the tide of Roman power 
swept over Spain, the North Atlantic never became a well-used 
waterway nor was even thoroughly investigated. Tin mines were 
discovered nearer home in Spain, and for communications with 
Britain the Romans preferred the overland route through France 
and across the Channel. Over three hundred years after Pytheas had 
reported on Ireland, a respectable geographer could still babble 
about the Irish custom of eating dead parents and having inter- 
course with mothers and sisters. It was on the Indian, not the At- 
lantic, Ocean that the ancient mariners next concentrated; but that 
story belongs to a later age (pp. 227-32) . 

10 A g e 

of Titans 

AT SUNSET OF JUNE 13, 323 B.C., Alexander the Great lay dead in a 
room of what had once been Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon. 
Behind the scenes his staff officers were already laying plans to pick 
up the reins of his power. They were no ordinary men themselves, 
and they had worked in harmony only while a greater had been 
alive to direct them. In the desperate contest that followed, two 
were to make maritime history: eagle-beaked, jutting-jawed Ptolemy 
who laid the foundations of a fleet which his son expanded into one 
of the greatest of the ancient world; and grizzled, one-eyed Anti- 
gonus who grasped the surpassing importance of sea power in the 
struggle with his rivals and whose son became a sea lord par excel- 
lence, a brilliant admiral and a daring innovator in the design 
and use of men-of-war. 

Alexander was born into a small world; he left it a big one, setting 
the stage for a new era, the Hellenistic Age, which lasted three 
centuries after his death. There was only one great empire in his 
day, the Persian, and that lay off to the east and was playing only 
an indirect role in the history of the Mediterranean. The Greek 
who lived in Greece or in any of the colonies she had planted was 

!42 The Ancient Mariners 

a citizen of a city that by itself made up his nation. It was in this 
world of little city-states that Athens had reached her heyday as a 
naval and commercial power in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.; 
a little frog, but bigger than all the others in the pond. Alexander 
changed all that. In one swoop he built up an empire that stretched 
from Greece to India. And when, on his death, it disintegrated, as 
was inevitable without his genius to keep it whole, it did not break 
into city-state fragments but into large chunks: one, centered on 
his home state of Macedon, constantly trying to exercise overlordship 
upon the cities of Greece and the Aegean isles; another, centered 
on Egypt, constantly trying to control the coasts and islands of the 
eastern Mediterranean; a third, centered upon Syria, constantly con- 
testing the advances of its Egyptian neighbor. The history of the 
century after Alexander's death is, by and large, the story of the 
bitter struggles among his former officers and their successors, the 
rulers of these new empires. 

The creation of such states brought a new dimension into Greek 
history: bigness. Not only did great political units replace clusters 
of little ones but a widespread common culture came into being. 
Alexander's officers were Greek and, to help them in the enormous 
job of ruling and policing large areas containing varied peoples and 
cultures, they brought in numbers of their fellow countrymen. They 
settled them as a trusted and favored upper class the length and 
breadth of their new kingdoms, and founded dozens of cities to 
accommodate them. As a result, a common Greek culture pervaded 
lands that had hardly known Greeks before: one language now 
took a traveler from Spain to India. Men read the same books, 
listened to the same plays, looked at the same sort of paintings and 
statues at Seleuceia in the heart of Mesopotamia, at Alexandria in 
Egypt, Antioch in Syria, Athens in Greece, Syracuse in Sicily. Com- 
merce became big: caravan tracks stretched hundreds, some thou- 
sands, of miles to Arabia and India; long sea routes crisscrossed 
the Mediterranean and great freighters sailed over them. 

Athens, even at its height, had operated on a tight budget with 
little left over for luxury; the new rulers could indulge in extrava- 
gance completely beyond the ken of a Greek city-state. Like the 
pashas of Persia, whom they supplanted in many places, they main- 
tained elaborate courts, centers of luxurious living, which kept busy 

The Age of Titans 143 

an army of merchants and shippers and caravaneers; there were 
excellent profits to be made in supplying this newly created nobility 
with rich textiles, perfumes, gems, spices, rare woods, imported 
delicacies. They planted great new cities which they proudly named 
after themselves or members of the family, and decorated opulently 
with public buildings. Alexander's young cavalry officer, Seleucus, 
founded Seleuceia near Babylon as his capital and Antioch in Syria, 
named after his father, Antiochus. Egypt yielded Ptolemy the in- 
come to make the city his former commander had created, Alexan- 
dria, into an architectural glory and the intellectual center of the 
world; when, three centuries later, Cleopatra pressed an asp to her 
bosom and the dynasty came to an end, there was still an enormous 
amount of money left in the treasury. Even the descendants of 
Antigonus in Greece, where the pickings were necessarily slimmer 
because of the barren nature of the country, were able to found 
cities with imposing buildings and keep up a presentable court. 

The greatest drain on the treasuries of all these kingdoms, one 
which ultimately bled them into financial anemia, was the military 
budget. Ptolemy's successors in Egypt, Antigonus' in Greece, those 
of Seleucus in Syria, watched one another like hawks, never daring 
to drop their guard; when, at the slightest sign of weakness one 
attacked, another ran to help the victim, in order to preserve the 
balance of power. Huge armies clashed; the seas saw the largest 
ships ever to be built and some of the greatest fleets ever to be 
collected in the ancient world. 

Alexander started without a navy. As he swept over the Greek 
coastal cities of Asia Minor and the seaports of Phoenicia he picked 
up their squadrons and patched together a force that eventually 
gained the respectable total of 240 units and ended Athens' days 
as a sea power off Amorgos in 322 (p. 127) . Like the empire that 
he had built up, it was dismembered at his death and the parts 
taken over by his successors. Seven years later the bulk of it came 
into Ptolemy's hands. 

Ptolemy's chief rival at the moment was Antigonus the One-Eyed, 
founder of the dynasty that was to rule over Macedon and much 
of Greece until the Romans came in a century later. He worked 
closely with his son, Demetrius; the two present an example of 

144 The Ancient Mariners 

harmony and affection unusual in an age that even saw fathers 
murdering sons and vice versa for political advantage. Amigonus, 
a tireless worker who rarely wasted a minute, was able to maintain 
an attitude of ironic tolerance toward his young partner's penchant 
for taking time out to play. A story is told that once, hearing Deme- 
trius was ill, he walked to his bedroom and a girl brushed by, 
obviously just departing; when his son greeted him with, "I've 
been sick; I just got rid of a fever," "I know," replied the old man, 
"I met it on the way out." When, in 301 B.C., father and son fought 
their last battle together, Antigonus, trapped in a corner of the 
field, held fast to his post, repeating over and over, "Demetrius 
will rescue me." For once he was wrong; the odds were too great 
and he was cut down. 

The two made a perfect team. Antigonus knew the importance of 
sea power, and Demetrius was not only a brilliant tactician but a 
gifted and bold designer of ships. In 315 B.C. they set out to build 
a fleet that would match what Ptolemy had taken over of Alexan- 
der's and touched off the greatest naval arms race in ancient history. 

Antigonus turned to the dockyards of Phoenicia. They were con- 
veniently located near the cedar and pine forests of Lebanon, and 
their shipwrights had been at their trade for literally thousands of 
years. But for designs he turned to the west: Antigonus wanted a 
fleet, not of triremes like the Athenian, but of the newer quad- 
riremes and quinqueremes which, invented by Dionysius of Syra- 
cuse 83 years before, were gradually making their way into the 
eastern navies (p. 126) . Demetrius' ideas were even more grandiose: 
if quadriremes and quinqueremes, that is, "fours" and "fives," could 
be built, why not larger still? 

Under his watchful eye, in 315 B.C., the Phoenician shipyards 
turned out some "sixes" and "sevens" for him. By 301 he had 
"eights," "nines," "tens," an "eleven," and even one great "thir- 
teen"; this giant, which needed 1,800 men just to row it, was the 
largest type ever built as a class. A dozen years later he added a 
"fifteen" and a "sixteen." When he was ultimately defeated in 285, 
Ptolemy got the "fifteen" and the "sixteen" passed to another of his 
rivals. But somehow it wound up in the fleets of Demetrius' suc- 
cessors: when the Romans conquered Macedon in 168 they found 
the old ship there; it was no longer of any use in battle but they 

The Age of Titans 145 

sailed it home, rowed it up the Tiber, and moored it at one of the 
city docks as a trophy. 

The race did not stop here. Demetrius' son, Antigonus Gonatas, 
to match his father's "sixteen," now in enemy hands, built an even 
bigger ship, perhaps an "eighteen." Ptolemy's son countered this 
with not only a "twenty" but two gigantic "thirties." The climax 
was reached toward the end of the third century B.C. when Ptolemy 
IV built an elephantine "forty." It was over 400 feet long and 50 
feet wide; the figureheads on prow and stern towered more than 
70 feet above the water, and there were no less than 4,000 rowers 
manning its benches; the thranite oars were mighty sweeps 57 feet 
long. But this behemoth never saw action and may have been 
meant only for display; the fourth Ptolemy had a penchant for 
building floating showpieces (p. 174) . 

Just what kind of ships were these supergalleys? Seamen and 
scholars have wrangled over this question for centuries. The quad- 
riremes and quinqueremes, "fours" and "fives," most are willing 
to agree, were vessels in which four and five men worked a single 
large oar, like the galleys of the Middle Ages and subsequent cen- 
turies. Very likely "sixes" and "sevens" and so on up to "tens" were 
based on the same principle; when Mark Antony fought the 
famous naval battle of Actium (p. 208) his flagship was a "ten" and 
yet it stood a mere ten feet above the water, which doesn't seem to 
allow room for more than one bank of oars. Moreover, galleys using 
ten-man sweeps are known from later ages. But what of the larger 
types, the "fifteen" and "sixteen" of Demetrius, the "twenty" and 
"thirty" and "forty" of the Ptolemies? There is no sure way of tell- 
ing. A good guess is that they, and perhaps some of the lesser sizes 
as well, were oversize biremes, even triremes, that is, with two or 
three banks of long sweeps, each manned by a number of men 
(cf. PL loa). Demetrius' "fifteen," for example, may have had two 
banks, eight men to an oar in the upper and seven to an oar in the 
lower. Ptolemy's "forty" was almost certainly an overblown trireme, 
with a total of forty men assigned to the thranite, zygite, and thala- 
mite oars in one segment (cf. p. 94) . 

Greek and Roman writers are exasperatingly close-mouthed 
when it comes to the details of these great ships, and there are no 
certain pictures of any to help out (see Plate loa which shows one 

146 The Ancient Mariners 

of the bigger units that fought at Actium) . One ancient historian 
mentions that quinqueremes used three hundred rowers and could 
hold a marine force of 120; they had, then, thirty oars on each side 
and were obviously provided with ample fighting decks. On the 
larger types the oars ran so prodigiously long that lead was sunk in 
the handles to help balance the outboard span. One of the most 
interesting innovations in these ships was in their sails. There had 
been up to now a sort of unwritten law of rigging: one mast and sail 
to a ship. Egypt's Nile and Red Sea boats, Crete's traders, Homer's 
rovers, Themistocles' triremes, all had carried this much and no 
more. But there is some slight indication that, to move the heavy 
supergalleys, naval architects broke with tradition and designed a 
rig with three sails, not superimposed this was something that 
lay over a millennium and a half in the future but hung on three 
separate masts. If so, one must have been the artemon, a bowsprit- 
sail set on a short raking mast forward, since this is soon to appear 
as a standard feature of all ships (pp. 174, 213, 218 and Pis. lob, 
nb) . The other two must have been main and mizzen. 

These great warships except for Ptolemy's "forty" were neither 
king's playthings nor misguided experiments. They were ships that 
saw hard service and proved their value in action. Antigonus 
Gonatas built his "eighteen" because of a defeat suffered when he 
had nothing to pit against the enemy's "sixteen." Ptolemy II re- 
garded the architect of his two "thirties" so highly that he honored 
him with a citation carved on stone that has survived to this day. The 
great ships, as one would expect, brought about a rise in power all 
the way down the line in the navies they belonged to. A well- 
balanced force in Demetrius' or Ptolemy's day was led by a super- 
dreadnought, generally canying the flag; included a group of 
battleships, anything from "sixes" to "tens"; its ships of the line 
were "fours" and "fives"; and triremes were reckoned among its 
light craft. When all types were computed together, the average 
power of such a force approximated that of a quinquereme. 

The size as well as the power of fleets grew. In the battles between 
Demetrius and Ptolemy or their sons, each side could put 150 to 
200 ships into the line. At one time, about 313 B.C., Demetrius and 
Antigonus had a navy that totaled 330 units. Fifty years later 

The Age of Titans 147 

Ptolemy II topped this with one even greater: he had 336 units 
with an average power of a quinquereme. It was made up of 
2 "thirties" 

1 "twenty" 

4 "thirteens" 

2 "twelves" 
14 "elevens" 
30 "nines" 
37 "sevens" 

5 "sixes" 
17 "fives" 

224 "fours," "threes," and smaller types 

His father had depended chiefly on "fives," and Demetrius" newly 
designed big ships had beaten him; the son learned the lesson: he 
cut down the number of "fives" to seventeen and built his fleet 
around a powerful nucleus of heavier types. 

Demetrius' contribution to naval warfare did not end with the 
blueprints of the supergalley. He has another great innovation to 
his credit: naval artillery. Demetrius had always taken a keen in- 
terest in all the devices available for besieging walled towns 
battering rams, storming towers, protective mantlets, but especially 
catapults for shooting darts and ballistas for hurling stones; his 
contemporaries nicknamed him Poliorcetes, "Besieger of Cities." 
The idea came to him of mounting catapults and ballistas on his 
warships, and very likely one of his reasons for designing bigger 
and bigger craft was to support the weight and withstand the recoil 
of these new weapons. On the prows of some of his vessels he set 
catapults capable of shooting darts at least 21 inches long. It wasn't 
size that mattered so much as range: as his forces approached a 
hostile fleet his naval artillery could shoot a preliminary barrage 
from perhaps four hundred yards away while the enemy would have 
to wait to get within bowshot to reply. Like his other inventions, it 
was quickly adopted elsewhere; soon petty officers called "catapult- 
ists" became a standard rating in all navies. 

Artillery and bigger ships naturally had their effect on naval 
tactics, and sea battles were different in this age from what they had 
been a century earlier. They still took place near shore (p. 102) ; a 

148 The Ancient Mariners 

supergalley was even harder to keep at sea than a trireme. But a 
fight now opened with a heavy barrage from catapults and bowmen. 
Lighter craft, triremes and quadriremes, still maneuvered for posi- 
tion and the chance for an effective blow with the ram; but larger 
units, all of which had massive reinforced snouts (cf. p. 105) , were 
not afraid to meet each other prow to prow and this often resulted 
in close-packed melees in which the marines on the decks, hurling 
javelins or thrusting with special long spears, decided the issue. To 
aid in this sort of fighting, turrets were added to the ships' arma- 
ment. These were movable wooden affairs that could be quickly 
set up at bow and stern when a vessel went into action, and their 
height gave sharpshooters a chance to fire down on the enemy's 
decks (cf. pi. loa) . 

To maintain their expensive fleets the new rulers adopted the 
system of using trierarchs (p. 95) . Athens had been able, of course, 
to call only on her own population; Ptolemy or Antigonus had the 
upper class of every city in their empires to turn to. They needed 
them: the sums poured into their navies were enormous. But even 
the pockets of the rich weren't inexhaustible, and the difficulties 
that arose are attested by no less authoritative a witness than a 
document, written on papyrus, from Ptolemy II's official files, one 
of the rare pieces of firsthand evidence we have for ancient mari- 
time history. Like Wenamon's report (p. 47) , it was found in the 
sands of Egypt and owes its preservation over the centuries to the 
perennial dryness of that country's climate. 

It is a letter which was written in October 257 B.C. by Apollodotus, 
some bureaucrat in the finance ministry; his clerks must have been 
constantly sending out others of the same sort. The addressee was 
Xanthippus, a resident of Halicarnassus a city on the southeast 
coast of Asia Minor which Egypt controlled at the time who ap- 
parently was wealthy enough to have been chosen trierarch for noth- 
ing less than a "nine." But Xanthippus, it appears, just didn't have 
the ready cash to meet the expenses involved. So Apollodotus ar- 
ranged a loan for him from public funds. He writes: 

Apollodotus to Xanthippus, greetings. In addition to the 2,000 drachmas 
which I have written to you about in a previous letter, I have forwarded 
to Antipater, who is representing you as trierarch of the "nine/* 3,000 
drachmas which must be made good to Apollonius, Minister of Finance. 

The Age of Titans 149 

Will you therefore kindly arrange to remit to him in accordance with the 
enclosed. Goodbye. 

Enclosed was a memorandum with all the particulars of the 
trierarch's debt. It was probably difficulties like these that induced 
the businesslike Ptolemies to go further and get more than just the 
rich to share in the costs involved: they passed a "trireme tax," the 
proceeds of which were for the upkeep of the fleet 

In 306 B.C. the opening move took place in a seesaw struggle for 
control of the eastern seas that was to last a century: Demetrius, 
commanding his father's recently built squadrons and riding one 
of the new "sevens" as flagship, challenged Ptolemy's fleet off the 
city of Salamis on the south coast of Cyprus. Each had probably 
close to 150 warcraft under his command. The ships formed up 
face to face in two long lines at right angles to the shore. Demetrius, 
who always planned his tactics with meticulous care, adopted on this 
occasion an unbalanced line. He deliberately made his seaward 
wing, under his own command, very strong, with all the major units 
in it, and left his shoreward wing weak. And so, when, after a 
preliminary bombardment in which his catapults probably had the 
better of it, the two lines collided, they slowly pivoted about the 
center like a great swinging door as Demetrius' strong seaward wing 
pushed the enemy inshore and Ptolemy's shoreward wing pushed 
the weak forces lined up against it toward the open sea. This was 
exactly what Demetrius counted on: when the swing went full circle 
his ships would be between the Egyptians and the shore, thereby 
neatly cutting them off from land, an awkward position for any fleet 
but particularly for one whose rowers had just gone through hours 
of grueling work. Ptolemy, seeing the danger in time, broke and ran 
and Demetrius wound up with forty ships captured along with 
their crews, eighty that had capsized and were successfully towed 
ashore, and the mastery of the seas for the next twenty years. In a 
sense he never lost it. When he was finally cornered in 285 B.C.,, 
it was on land while he was desperately trying to get back to his 
ships; he was captured and one of his admirals handed over the 
bulk of his fleet to Ptolemy. 

Five years later his son, Antigonus Gonatas, tried to win the sea 
back. His father's gigantic "sixteen" now carried the flag for the 

The Ancient Mariners 

enemy and he had nothing to match it; he was defeated and the east- 
ern Mediterranean became an Egyptian lake. The shipyards and 
squadrons of the Phoenician ports of the Levant and of the Greek 
cities of Asia Minor were now securely in Ptolemy II's hands; he 
controlled the Aegean Islands north to the coast of Thrace. Anti- 
gonus had to wait until the middle of the century before he could 
try again. By this time he was firmly established as the ruler of Mace- 
don, and controlled the ports of Greece with their dockyards. He 
built a new fleet; probably most of it was turned out by the skilled 
shipwrights of Corinth (p. 87) . His navy was still much smaller 
than Ptolemy's but he was willing to gamble, and it paid off: in two 
clashes with the Egyptians, one near the island of Cos off the south- 
west coast of Asia Minor and the other on the opposite side of the 
Aegean near Andros, he beat them both times. No one knows how, 
for all details of the fighting have been lost. They were all-important 
victories, and it has been argued that the Louvre's famous Nike of 
Samothrace, that magnificent statue of a goddess alighting on the 
prow of a warship, was a dedication set up by Antigonus in the 
sanctuary on Samothrace to commemorate one of these triumphs. 
Yet even after this comeback on the part of Macedon, Egypt was 
still strong on the sea. The Ptolemies kept control of much of the 
eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and their squadrons moved at 
will in the waters north of Egypt. But both sides by now had to 
slacken their pace: the money and effort that had been expended 
just couldn't be kept up. Their supergalleys, the most expensive to 
maintain, like the great dinosaurs became extinct; they were dedi- 
cated as monuments or just left to rot when in 168 B.C. the Romans 
found the "sixteen" in a Macedonian dockyard it was a fossil; it 
hadn't been to sea for seventy years. The two rivals had succeeded 
in canceling each other out, and the stage was set for the entrance 
of a new naval power. 

Rhodes, located on an island off the southwest coast of Asia 
Minor, was a small nation compared with the mighty kingdoms that 
surrounded her. As an island state, her whole life was bound up 
with the sea and she had built up a small but highly respected navy. 
Now, toward the end of the third century B.C., by holding the bal- 

The Age of Titans 151 

ance of power on the water, she was able to step forward as the key 
naval figure in the eastern Mediterranean. 

The two great rivals, Egypt and Macedon, from the very outset 
had been caught in a vicious circle. The Ptolemies needed a navy to 
defend their shores against Demetrius' or Antigonus' fleet and to 
maintain one, just like the pharaohs whom they replaced (p. 4) , 
they had to hold the Levant or the southern coasts of Asia Minor 
where pine and cedar forests supplied ship timber; the kings of 
Macedon had their native pine forests to draw on for timber and 
naval stores (they exported both, carefully raising the prices for all 
pro-Egyptian customers) , but they needed the dockyards of Greece 
to turn out and maintain their ships and they had to have ships 
or else Egypt's fleet would sail brashly across the Aegean and incite 
Greece to revolt. And so the struggle, largely political, went on. But 
Rhodes needed a navy because her economic life depended on over- 
seas trade. She was an international port and banking center, and 
her merchant marine was one of the largest in the ancient world, out 
of all proportion to her size, like Norway's today. 

Freedom of the seas was Rhodes' keynote, so that her freighters 
could travel where they wanted in safety. Yet the seas could hardly 
be called safe if a skipper had to sail with the jittery feeling that the 
other side of the headland he was passing hid the low black hull of 
a pirate craft. Rhodes bravely shouldered the burden and single- 
handedly kept the eastern Mediterranean relatively free of its ancient 
scourge. Athens in the great days of her commerce had shied away 
from the job but then Athens depended on foreign shipping (p. 
120) and didn't have the investment in a merchant marine to pro- 
tect that Rhodes did. 

There was more involved than chasing pirates, difficult as that 
was, in keeping the seas free. When the city of Byzantium in 221 
B.C. tried to levy a toll on the traffic through the Bosporus, it was to 
Rhodes that shippers who were affected sent their complaint, and a 
Rhodian fleet was at the trouble spot in short order. Most important 
of all, Rhodes had to see to it that no nation grew powerful enough 
to turn the Aegean or Levantine waters into a private preserve. So, 
when Antigonus Gonatas built a new fleet to challenge Egypt's con- 
trol (p. 149) , Rhodes joined him. The Ptolemies were practically 
her business partners her merchant marine carried most of their 

!g 2 The Ancient Mariners 

vast exports of grain but allying with their enemy gave the island 
a chance to restore the balance of power on the sea; from the long- 
term point of view and Rhodian leaders were as farsighted states- 
men as they were businessmen this was safer than becoming a 
dependent, even a prosperous one, of Egypt. 

Holding down pirates and upholding the balance of power on the 
sea demands a first-rate navy; the one the Rhodians maintained was 
the most efficient of its time. It was small: it averaged about forty 
major units, no match, for example, for Ptolemy's aggregation of 
over three hundred. But it was not intended for such a challenge; 
the statesmen would see to it that the admirals had powerful allies 
at their side when the time came to take on an enemy. Its units were 
small: there was nothing in the slips larger than a quinquereme, but 
the Rhodians had neither the budget nor the need for anything 
bigger. They particularly favored the quadrireme. The fastest type 
of major unit afloat, it suited perfectly their style of fighting, which 
depended on maneuver and on the use of the ram; some of their 
most spectacular victories resulted from the lightning-like moves 
they carried out in these craft (pp. 169-172). They even came up 
with a new naval weapon, the last to be invented until the very end 
of the ancient world. In 190 B.C. a squadron of about thirty of their 
ships was hopelessly trapped; but seven ran the gantlet safely be- 
cause they had been fitted out experimentally with a new device, 
containers of blazing fire slung at the ends of two long poles which 
projected from the bows. If an enemy attacked, the fire pots were 
dropped on his deck and if he flinched he laid himself open to a 
stroke from the ram. But sea duty for the Rhodians nine times out 
of ten meant not fighting formal actions but tracking down pirates, 
and this called for light swift vessels. Rhodes fought the devil with 
fire: her fleet included a large number of a special type of craft 
called the triemiolia or "trireme-hemiolia." Long before, pirates 
had remodeled the two-banked galley into the hemiolia, the "one 
and a half," a craft designed for the particular purpose of chasing 
down merchant shipping; it allowed them to run under sail as well 
as oars during pursuit and yet provided room to stow the rigging 
away when the time came to board (p. 86). A trireme could out- 
fight any such ship if it could catch it but the standard model was 
made to go into action without any sailing gear aboard (p. 97) . 

The Age of Titans 153 

Rhodian architects created the triemiolia to chase down hemiolias. 
It was simply a fast type of trireme revamped in the manner of the 
vessel it was intended to fight. It was so made that, during a chase, 
all banks could be manned and sail carried; when the time came to 
close in, it became a "two and a half*: the thranite oarsmen abaft 
the mast quitted their benches, leaving a space into which mast and 
sail could be quickly lowered. 

To keep this fleet with all its varied units in a constant and per- 
fect state of repair, Rhodes maintained a vast, complex navy yard. 
It was the only one in the ancient world that we know had a security 
system: certain portions were closed, on pain of death, to all but 
authorized personnel. 

Good ships are useless without good men; Rhodian crews were 
the best there were. Athens had filled the benches with citizens of 
the lowest class and hired rowers; in the fourth century she even 
hired admirals (pp. 96, 124). The Ptolemies and their Macedonian 
rivals used whatever they could get island Greeks, Asia Minor 
Greeks, Phoenicians. But in Rhodes the navy was the senior service, 
and every galley in it was commanded and rowed by her citizens. 
They made it possible for her fleet to specialize in the use of man- 
euver and the ram at a time when inferior oarsmen were compelling 
her neighbors to give such tactics up. Moreover, they were indomit- 
able fighters. In 306 B.C. Demetrius tried to take the city of Rhodes 
by storm. He moved up a fleet of 200 warships and 170 transports 
loaded with 40,000 men, and the very latest in heavy siege machin- 
ery; large numbers of pirates gleefully joined him. The Rhodians, 
though desperately outnumbered they had about 7,000 men not 
counting slaves fought Him to a standstill: with courage, stubborn- 
ness, and ingenuity they repelled attack after attack; under brutally 
heavy fire some of their light craft dashed across the harbor and cut 
loose the barges carrying Demetrius' siege weapons, while others 
broke through his blockade of the entrance to gain the open sea and 
harry his lines of supply. After a year he finally gave up. 

The officers who commanded these men were thoroughly trained; 
many had made their way up through the ranks. Archaeologists have 
found on the island a stone monument which the crew of a quad- 
rireme set up in honor of Alexidamus, one of their officers; pride- 
fully they recorded his naval career: enlisted man first on destroyers 

The Ancient Mariners 

("one and a halfs"), then on heavier units (cataphracts; p. 99); 
boatswain; bow officer on a "one and a half" (proreus, his first com- 
missioned rank) ; bow officer on a quadrireme; they carefully noted 
that he had seen action in the last two assignments. Another monu- 
ment sets forth the career of a certain Polycles. He was a member of 
the island's aristocracy and didn't have to climb the ladder like 
Alexidamus; he started with the command of a flotilla of destroyers 
(aphracts) . His next assignment was command of a quinquereme 
and then, after a tour of duty with the army, appointment to the 
staff of the commander in chief of all Rhodes' naval forces. Subse- 
quently he was trierarch of a quadrireme and led it in action. 
Officers like Alexidamus and Polycles literally devoted their lives to 
the sea. Other navies scrambled to hire them whenever they were 
available, and every now and then an occasion arose when a fleet of 
Rhodes found itself pitted against an enemy line commanded by 
one of her sons. 

Rhodian crews respected their commanders and frequently hon- 
ored them with monuments like the two described above. Excavators 
have dug up a number of similar citations, and because of them we 
know more about the complements of Rhodian men-of-war than of 
any other. The personnel, aside from rowers, assigned to a quad- 
rireme, for example, included 

Officers: trierarch or epiplous (qualified officer selected by the 

trierarch to substitute for him) captain 
kybernetes executive officer 
proreus bow officer and first lieutenant 
keleustes officer in charge of rowing personnel 
pentecontarchos junior officer with administrative 

Ratings: boatswain (hegemon ton ergon, literally "leader of 

the activities") 
carpenter (naupegos) 

helmsman (pedaliouchos, literally "steering-oay 


oiler (elaiochreistes, literally "oil anointer;" 

probably in charge of leathern gear 
and the like) 
doctor (iatros, just a rating, not an officer, and 

The Age of Titans ! 55 

generally a foreigner; many came from 
the island of Cos, the home of Hip- 

oar-thong man (kopodetes, literally "oar binder"; prob- 
ably in charge of straps that secured 
the oar to the tholepin) 

Non-rated Personnel: bow deck watch (ergazomenoi en prora 

"workers in the prow/' for handling 
sails and lines; at least 5) 
stern deck watch (ergazomenoi en prymne 
"workers in the stern/' for handling 
sails and lines; at least 5) 

Fighting Personnel: artillerymen (katapeltaphetai, literally "cata- 
pult men"; at least 4) 
bowmen (toxotai, at least 2) 
marines (epibatai, at least 19) 

Probably triremes and quinqueremes carried the same officers and 
ratings, the only real difference being in the number of rowers and 
of fighting men. Smaller units like the "one and a half" perhaps had 
to forego the luxury of a ship's doctor. 

History relates in its impersonal way that Rhodes built up a fine 
navy and worked hard to sweep the seas clean of pirates. An inscrip- 
tion has been discovered on the island which tells, vividly and path- 
etically, what this meant in the lives of men. It is on a gravestone 
that once stood over the tomb of three brothers. As so many of their 
compatriots must have, the boys entered the navy. They had done 
well. One had risen to commissioned-officer rank (proreus). The 
second, though just a rower, was assigned to a flagship. The third 
was captain of a unit of marines; he had come up the hard way, for, 
in another inscription set up some years earlier, his name was cited 
along with a number of others for gallantry in action and he had 
then been only a katapeltaphetes, an artilleryman. All had been 
killed in different actions, not in major battles against enemy fleets 
but in the grinding daily work of the Rhodian navy, engagements 
with pirates. Two of these actions are merely mentioned, but the 
third is localized: it took place in the straits between Crete and 
Greece, near Cape Malea, a spot so favored by pirates that ancient 

156 The Ancient Mariners 

Greek mariners had a proverb that ran, "Round Malea and forget 
about getting home," and modern Greek sailors until relatively 
recently still sang, "Cape Malea, Cape Malea; help me Christ and 
all the Saints!" 

Late in the summer of 201 B.C. a Rhodian galley nosed into the 
Tiber, far to the west, and rowed slowly upstream to Rome. It was 
carrying special envoys from the island and one of her neighbors to 
place before the Roman Senate a request for help. Antigonus Gon- 
atas' grandson, Philip, had just finished building a powerful fleet. 
Because Egypt's navy was rotting in the slips, Rhodes, following as 
always its policy of maintaining the balance of power on the sea, 
was inviting the major power of the west, mistress of the western 
waters, to mix into the politics of the east. At the time it looked like 
a shrewd maneuver; a generation later it was discouragingly clear 
that the guest had moved in to stay. And Rome was a most formid- 
able guest. At one time she had built up, off in the western Mediter- 
ranean, a fleet almost the equal of any in the east; and there were 
over two hundred galleys in her slips the summer that the Rhodian 
embassy arrived. 

IZ Landlubbers 

zn to Sea Lords 

THE ROMANS ABE an anomaly in maritime history, a race of lubbers 
who became lords of the sea in spite of themselves. Only a nation of 
born landsmen would have dared, as they did, to pit against one of 
the greatest navies afloat a jerry-built fleet, manned by green crews 
fresh off the farms, and commanded by admirals who lost four ships 
to the weather for every one to enemy action. When they ultimately 
became the chief naval power of the Mediterranean, they felt so 
uncomfortable in the role that they let a mighty navy rot in the 
slips and for a full century exercised their control with hardly a 
vessel to their name. 

Around 500 B.C., not long after Carthage had settled her dispute 
with the Greek colonists and marked off the western seas as her 
private preserve (p. 82), the inhabitants of an obscure village on 
the banks of the Tiber in central Italy began to flex their muscles 
and within two and one half centuries became the masters of the 
peninsula from the Po Valley to the tip of the boot. They were a 
nation of hard-working, thrifty peasants who drew their livelihood 
from the land and were among the toughest fighters in the world 


158 The Ancient Mariners 

on land. The waters around their newly acquired realm they left 
strictly alone, to Etruscans, Greeks and, of course, pirates. 

Across the Mediterranean lay Carthage, literally living off the 
sea. She ruled a far-flung maritime empire and defended it with a 
navy whose traditions reached back beyond the times of King Solo- 
mon (p. 70). In her early days Rome had no bone to pick with 
Carthage. Hundreds of miles separated her from the nearest Cartha- 
ginian colonies in the western part of Sicily, and she cheerfully 
signed and renewed treaties in which she gave up trading rights in 
western waters in return for a promise to keep hands off her own 
sphere of interest. It was an easy gesture: the Romans got nothing 
out of, and wanted nothing to do with, the sea. 

But, as time went on, the lubbers found that, willy-nilly, they had 
to try the water. Their march up and down Italy had brought under 
their subjection the seaports of Etruria to the north and the Greek 
coastal cities in the south. All these lived off maritime trade and 
the pirates that infested the Tyrrhenian Sea were a particularly 
virulent breed. So, in 311 B.C., Rome equipped two squadrons of 
ten triremes each to police the local waters. Twenty years later one 
of these fledglings decided to try its wings in formal combat, attacked 
the fleet of the Greek town of Taranto to the south, and got clob- 
bered so thoroughly that the Romans hastily reverted to type: they 
scrapped even this miniature navy and arranged to guard the sea 
lanes by simply requisitioning ships from the Greek cities on the 
south Italian coast. Though these were subject to Rome and she 
was responsible for their defense, her attitude had a rough justice 
about it: what sea-borne trade there was lay largely in their hands; 
let them chase the pirates themselves. 

But it soon became apparent that there was a more serious prob- 
lem than piracy to worry about. A scant two miles from Italy, across 
the Strait of Messina, lay the island of Sicily. The eastern half was 
occupied by independent Greek city-states, but the western belonged 
to Carthage. Separated by several hundred miles, both parties had 
found it easy to abide by their treaties; now that Rome reached 
down to the Italian side of the strait, relations became strained. And 
when, through a complicated set of circumstances, the Carthaginians 
moved eastward and garrisoned the town of Messina on the Sicilian 
side of the strait, the two found themselves cheek by jowl. This could 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 150 

not be kept up for long; in 264 B.C. the First Punic War broke out. 
Both sides had no inkling that it was to last twenty-three years, and 
the Romans certainly none that the issue, almost from the first, 
would be fought out on the sea. 

Rome's prime objective was to remove the Carthaginians from 
eastern Sicily. She ferried armies into the island across the strait 
an enemy squadron was on hand to intercept, but no ancient block- 
ade was ever airtight (p. 102) and for three years campaigned with 
fair success. But Carthage refused to call it quits. She didn't need 
to: she had an impregnable position on the west coast of Sicily, a 
series of ports ringed with fortifications, too strong to be stormed 
from the land side alone and which, if beseiged from there, the 
home base in Africa could always supply by sea; from them, once the 
enemy relaxed his guard, she could always strike out again to regain 
what she had lost. To complete the job Rome had to push her 
opponent out of Sicily. But this couldn't be done by the army alone; 
somehow control of the water had to be wrested from Carthage's 
hands in order to cut off her forces in Sicily from home. In 261 B.C. 
Rome's statesmen and generals faced up to a dismaying reality: 
sooner or later they had to take the plunge and create a navy; David 
had to fight Goliath but not with a slingshot, with the giant's own 

In the early spring of 260 B.C. the Senate the body which at 
Rome usually handled foreign policy and national defense called 
for the construction of one hundred quinqueremes and twenty tri- 
remes to be ready in time for the summer campaigning season; it 
must have sounded as fantastic to Rome as Roosevelt's call for fifty 
thousand airplanes in the grim spring of 1942 did to the United 
States. The ships had to be mostly quinqueremes. For one, this was 
the standard unit in the Carthaginian navy; for another, Rome had 
no crews and, while there was a chance of training raw recruits to 
handle the long sweeps of a quinquereme where one man directed 
the stroke and the other four just supplied muscle (p, 126), there 
wasn't a ghost of a chance of initiating them in that scant time into 
the intricacies of rowing a trireme. 

The miracle was accomplished. The vessels were turned out "from 
the tree," as an ancient historian put it, to the last detail of rigging 
in sixty days. No Roman knew how to design or make ships, so the 

160 The Ancient Mariners 

Senate must have requisitioned naval architects and shipwrights 
from the subject Greek coastal cities of South Italy as well as from 
Syracuse, which, with a sizable navy of its own, had joined the cause. 
Four years earlier when the Carthaginian squadron on blockade 
duty in the Strait of Messina had attacked a Roman convoy, one of 
the galleys ran aground, and the Romans dragged it ashore. The 
architects used this as a model but avoided following it to the letter. 
Carthage favored a light fast vessel designed to maneuver and ram, 
which only a crack crew could handle; to put green men aboard such 
a craft was not only useless but practically suicide. So they adapted 
the design to a slower, bulkier, heavier ship which was far more 
foolproof and had spacious decks to carry a powerful force of 

But this was only half the problem. Each quinquereme was going 
to need 300 oarsmen (p. 146) and each trireme 170 (p. 94). It was 
out of the question to think of training crews for the latter, so the 
hard-working Greek allies were called on to supply them and the 
Roman commanders addressed themselves to the job of recruiting 
and readying the 30,000 necessary to man the bigger ships. They 
couldn't look to the city, for Rome, going further even than Athens 
(p. 96), refused to assign a citizen to the benches. They turned to 
the only other available source, the various Italic peoples who, over 
the centuries, had been conquered and made subject allies. Soon, on 
makeshift rowing frames set up on land, young huskies fresh from 
farms up and down Italy were sweating and grunting in mock oars- 
manship. Then, as each galley came off the ways, they were tumbled 
aboard and given a taste of what the real thing was like. The whole 
program must have been under the direction of naval officers from 
the Greek allies; they very likely did as much swearing in those 
hectic two months as Baron von Steuben in his famous two at Valley 
Forge. In June, 260 B.C., the new fleet left the harbor at Ostia at 
the mouth of the Tiber and sailed down the southwest coast of Italy 
to rendezvous at Syracuse. Only Romans, with the courage that 
comes of ignorance, could have entertained the thought of sending 
it into action against the superb ships and veteran crews of Carthage. 

But then a second miracle took place. While the fleet was lying 
in the harbor of Syracuse someone came up with an idea that was 
to change the whole complexion of things. Possibly it was one of 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 


the Roman officers, more likely a Syracusan. The city had a tradition 
of naval inventiveness: its architects had designed the heavy triremes 
which destroyed the flower of Athens' navy (p. 105) and its onetime 
ruler, Dionysius, had invented the quinquereme itself (p. 125). 
Possibly, just possibly, the author was that renowned ancient scien- 
tist and engineer, Archimedes; he had been born at Syracuse twenty- 
seven years earlier and very likely was living there the day the fleet 
arrived. The Romans were unbeatable fighters on land; the problem 

Fig. 4. Reconstruction of the corvus. 

was to come up with something that would allow them to turn a sea 
fight into a land fight, some sure-fire device to enable them to 
grapple and board. The anonymous inventor designed what came 
to be known as the coruus, "raven," probably the sailor's slang term 
for it; we would call it a "crane" rather than a "raven" (Fig. 4) . It 
was nothing more than a gangplank, thirty-six feet long and four 
feet wide, with a heavy spike at the outboard end and at the other 
a long slot which fitted around a pole set up like a mast in the bow 
of the ship; when raised it stood upright snugly against the pole 
and, when lowered, it projected far over the bow. One tackle be- 
tween the farther end and the head of the pole controlled the rais- 
ing and lowering, and two, made fast to the deck on either side, 
swiveled it from side to side. A vessel so equipped would warily 
keep its prow headed toward the enemy and, as soon as he dosed 
in to ram, drop the "raven"; the spike would embed in his deck, and 
a boarding force could rush over the plank. Originally each Roman 

iQ 2 The Ancient Mariners 

ship had been assigned a permanent force of forty fighting men, 
drawn from the lowest class of citizens, to carry on the defensive 
duties normally handled by marines (p. 100). Now an additional 
eighty first-line troops from the legions were put aboard; their job 
was to charge the moment the "raven" landed. 

About August, 260 B.C., the test came. The Carthaginian fleet, 
superbly built and trained, much like the great Athenian fleets of 
the fifth century except that it was made up of quinqueremes in- 
stead of triremes and its flag was carried on a huge "seven," antici- 
pating a slaughter was out to provoke an encounter as quickly as 
possible. It swooped down on Mylae on the north shore of Sicily and 
started to ravage the coast. Caius Duilius, the Roman commander, 
took up the challenge: his clumsy galleys, the poles and planks of 
the ravens standing out grotesquely on the bows, crept around to 
Mylae. He had about 140 ships, slightly more than the enemy. 

When the Carthaginian admiral sighted the Roman fleet wallow- 
ing along he confidently let his captains surge forward to attack on 
their own without bothering to form a proper line of battle. They 
sighted the queer rigs on the Roman prows and hesitated, but only 
momentarily. Each ship pressed forward swiftly but smoothly, moved 
in for a thrust of the ram and, with a screeching of blocks as the 
tackles were loosed, the gangplanks came clattering down, the spikes 
thudded into the decking, and the Roman crews gasped and swore 
as they frantically backed water to keep the enemy from running on 
past and wrenching the ravens loose; seconds later, legionaries had 
spilled all over the Carthaginians' decks. When the two sides pulled 
clear, no less than thirty-one ships, including the "seven" that car- 
ried the flag, were in Roman hands. 

The Carthaginians, stunned but far from beaten, immediately 
regrouped for a second attack. This time they took no chances: they 
formed up to carry out a coordinated maneuver, the deadly diecplus 
(p. 101). Giving the enemy's prows with their dangerous ravens a 
wide berth, they raced like greyhounds past the sluggish Roman 
craft to take them in the quarter and stern. But Duilius was no fool 
and, if he had had no personal experience, he had read the books. 
He had started with a slight advantage in numbers and now, after 
Carthage's disastrous first attempt, he held at least a three to two 
advantage. So he was able to draw off some units and hold them as 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 163 

a reserve in a second line, a standard defense against the diecplus 
(p. 101). When the Carthaginians attacked his main line in flank 
and rear, he gave the reserves the signal: they lumbered forward 
and dropped their ravens on the enemy's sterns. Carthage broke and 
ran. She had lost in all forty-four ships and ten thousand men. It 
was incredible: a rank amateur had climbed into the ring with the 
champion and knocked him out. In Rome one can see today a col- 
umn erected to commemorate what happened, either the one 
actually set up at the time or a copy made a few centuries later. 
The monument is covered with carved anchors, and bristles with 
adornments in the shape of ships' prows. On the base the Romans 
proudly recorded that Duilius 

was the first Roman to perform exploits in ships at sea. He was the 
first to fit out and train ships and crews and, with these, he defeated in 
battle on the high seas all the Carthaginian ships and their mighty naval 
personnel, under the eyes of Hannibal, their commander in chief. By his 
strength he captured one "seven" and thirty quinqueremes and triremes 
along with their crews, and he sank thirteen. ... He was also the first 
to bring the people booty from a sea battle and the first to lead free-born 
Carthaginians in a victory parade. 

But the Romans were not the sort merely to sit back and gloat 
over their accomplishment. The Senate knew that the enemy was 
far from being down for the count, that one reason for the success 
had been the novelty of their new weapon, and that a second had 
been Duilius' superior numbers. They could do nothing about the 
novelty but they could do something about the other: from this time 
on they stuck to a consistent policy of outbuilding Carthage. 

It took five years to reach the numbers required and train the 
crews; some small engagements in the meantime gave the men a 
taste of action. The fleet was brought up to 230 units, most of them 
quinqueremes. As it turned out, Carthage's maximum was only 
about 200 and Rome by and large was able to maintain at least this 
edge throughout most of the rest of the war. 

Now that the navy was ready the Senate determined on a bold 
stroke. Why not have the fleet convoy a powerful expeditionary 
force to Africa, land it there, storm the enemy's home base and, as 
it were, cut the war off at its roots? In the summer of 256 B.C. an 
armada was launched. Carthage tried to intercept it off the promon- 

164 The Ancient Mariners 

tory of Ecnomus, about midway on the south coast of Sicily, and 
suffered a major defeat. She was outnumbered once again (230 to 
200) , her commander bungled his tactics, and because there was 
little or no wind the seas were smooth, ideal for the Roman ravens. 
The expeditionary force landed safely. 

But on their home grounds the Carthaginians fought like animals 
at bay. The Senate, fearing that it had bitten off more than it could 
chew, decided to evacuate the army. So, in the spring of 255 B.C., the 
grand fleet once again made its appearance off the African coast. 
Carthage, by frantic building during the winter, had repaired her 
losses; she dispatched 200 ships to Cape Hermaeum to attack. As 
usual she was outnumbered, 250 to 200, and this time her vessels 
and crews, having been hastily assembled, were below their accus- 
tomed standard. To make matters worse, the commander chose a 
fatally weak position, with his back to the shore. His men had no 
room in which to maneuver and the heavy Roman fleet, moving in 
ponderously with the ravens at the ready, thrust his ships implacably 
toward the beach. It was a shattering defeat: 114 of his craft were 
captured and 16 sunk. Carthage was now almost without a navy. It 
was her turn to need a miracle. 

It came. As a matter of fact, considering Rome's inexperience on 
the sea, the wonder is that it hadn't happened earlier. As the vic- 
torious fleet sailed back home, its ranks swelled by 114 prizes, it ran 
into a gale off Camarina, a town near the southeastern tip of Sicily. 
When the skies cleared the shore was littered with wrecks. Only 80 
ships limped into port; over 250 vessels and close to 100,000 men, 
trapped in the rowing chambers, had been lost. It was a staggering 
blow. Another was soon to follow: just two years later the Romans, 
having with dogged energy rebuilt the fleet, saw most of it go down 
in a storm off the south Italian coast. 

Replacing the ships was not the big problem: there were plenty of 
trees, shipwrights, and dockyards. But replacing the crews was an- 
other matter. Men were growing scarce and those available were 
hardly eager to serve under admirals who knew so little about the 
sea that they couldn't tell when to come in out of the weather. The 
Senate had to give up all thought of cutting off the war rapidly by 
striking at Carthage's heart in Africa. There was only one thing left 
to do: gradually build up the fleet again until it could blockade the 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 165 

enemy's ports in -western Sicily and starve them out. By 250 B.C. 
there were enough ships, and the army and navy were sent to 
strangle the key Carthaginian base at Lilybaeum. 

But blockading a port, the Romans quickly found out, was a 
branch of naval science they also had to learn from the beginning. 
Carthage, too, had been active during the lull, constructing ships of 
a new model, even lighter and faster than those she had used before 
and yet just as seaworthy. They were ideal for blockade running 
and, manned by experienced crews, could sail even when the wind 
was strong. Picking the right time, blustery days that kept the 
blockaders shorebound, whole squadrons slipped in and out carry- 
ing quantities of supplies and men. The clumsy Roman craft didn't 
have a chance of overtaking them, much less of dropping a raven on 
their decks. If Rome was to win out, she had to scrap her present 
navy, ravens and all, and start again from scratch. The decision was 
made for her when, in 249 B.C., one of her admirals lost most of his 
fleet in a misguided attempt to attack one of Carthage's ports from 
the sea and, almost simultaneously, another lost his in a gale at the 
very point, Camarina, where the first storm disaster had taken place; 
a Carthaginian squadron had been in chase but the commander 
prudently pulled in and let the weather do the job for him. Rome 
was now down to twenty ships. 

Sometime earlier a crack Carthaginian quadrireme, trying to get 
through the cordon around Lilybaeum, had gone aground. The 
Romans dragged it off, refitted it, and when Carthage's best block- 
ade runner, the fastest quinquereme afloat and manned by a picked 
crew, tried to slip out, they gave chase in their new ship and caught 
it. Roman oarsmen by this time were just as good as the best Car- 
thage had; all they needed were the ships. This prize was to serve as 
the model for a new fleet. It took time fifteen years of war had 
taken their toll of men, materials, and money but the time was 
available, for Carthage providentially had her hands full at the mo- 
ment putting down revolts in her African empire. In 242 B.C. the 
new navy was finally ready, two hundred quinqueremes of the lat- 
est, fastest, most seaworthy type. Near the Aegates Islands, off the 
western tip of Sicily, the crucial battle took place on 10 March 241 
B.C. A strong wind was blowing, the sort that fifteen years ago might 
have torn a Roman fleet apart or at least kept it from using the 

i66 The Ancient Mariners 

ravens. But the tables were now turned: the Romans had the better 
ships and crews and, as always, superior numbers (200 to 170) . They 
attacked; fifty enemy ships were sunk and seventy taken with their 

The war was finally over. At the end of its twenty-three long years 
the roles were completely reversed: Carthage, the erstwhile naval 
power, went into the last round with old vessels and raw crews; 
Rome, the nation of lubbers, ended with a navy of two hundred of 
the finest ships afloat, manned by veterans. 

Between 218 and 201 B.C. the two powers fought another bloody 
war. But it was of a totally different character, one which, because of 
Rome's virtually uncontested control of the western Mediterranean, 
was waged on land; there were no great sea battles in the Second 
Punic War. Everyone knows the story of how Hannibal, Carthage's 
most famous son, led a great army, elephants and all, overland from 
Spain to Italy, crossing the Alps when snow already blocked the 
passes. He didn't do it that way because he wanted to end up in the 
history books but simply because the water route, the natural way 
of transporting an army from Spain to Italy, was closed to him. His 
military genius enabled him to range over the Italian Peninsula de- 
stroying Roman army after Roman army; without a fleet to win 
control of the seas he could neither reinforce his troops nor get sup- 
plies for them. He could ravage the farms of Italy, but merchant- 
men brought in all the grain Rome needed from Sicily and Sardinia, 
once from as far off as Egypt. Rome even learned to organize her 
control of the seas by setting up naval stations with permanent 
squadrons in Spain, Sicily, and the Adriatic. Sea power and his 
opponent's bulldog trait of never giving up ultimately wore Hanni- 
bal down. He shipped the remnants of his troops out of Italy back 
to Africa; Rome ferried a mighty army of her own there and, in 
202 B.C., ended Carthage's days as a great nation. 

In 201 B.C. the nation that sixty years earlier had no fleet of her 
own was the greatest sea power in the Mediterranean. There were 
two hundred galleys in her slips, all of them quinqueremes, more 
than double the size of any other navy afloat. A century later she 
was still the greatest power in the Mediterranean but she had 
hardly a ship to her name. The Romans were a gifted people who, 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 167 

when hard necessity pushed them, were able to master the sea. But 
salt water was not to their taste and, as soon as they could, they gave 
it up. 

It was in 201 B.C. that the envoys from Rhodes and her neighbor 
on the Asia Minor coast, Pergamum, arrived to speak to the Roman 
Senate (p. 156). The grandson of Antigonus Gonatas, Philip, King 
of Macedon, was out to win back his ancestors' position in the east- 
ern Mediterranean. But Rhodes stood in his way. So he stirred up 
the pirates from that eternal breeding ground of piracy, Crete, to 
prey on the island's commerce, sent an agent to sabotage Rhodes' 
fleet (he managed to set a fire in the navy yard which destroyed 
thirteen triremes) , and readied a navy of his own, a formidable one 
with more than fifty major units, most of which were at least quin- 
queremes and a number were heavier "sixes," "sevens," "eights," 
"nines," even a "ten." To all this Philip added something new in 
naval tactics, the use of squadrons of the small, extremely fast, 
single-banked vessels called lembi that the IHyrians, his neighbors 
on the Jugoslav coast, used so successfully for piracy and plunder- 
ing; like modern torpedo boats their job was to race in close to the 
enemy's heavy galleys and disable them by damaging whatever they 
could get at, particularly the oars. In two battles near Chios off the 
Asia Minor coast, Rhodes' home waters as it were, Philip held his 
own against her forces and Pergamum's combined. This was serious; 
it looked as if the balance of power that the island had worked so 
hard to maintain was on the point of being shattered. Rhodes invited 
the dominant power of the western waters to take a hand in the east, 

A short time before the first war with Carthage, the Romans had 
gone through a savage struggle with one of the Greek kings of the 
east who, looking for a new world to conquer, invaded Italy and 
fought his way to within fifty miles of their capital. He was ulti- 
mately driven off, but the memory was bitter and the Romans there- 
after viewed the moves of the Greek monarchs of the east with a 
suspicious eye. Against Philip they had a special score to settle: 
during the second war with Carthage, when their fortunes were at 
low ebb, he had jumped in to take advantage of the situation he 
had his own suspicions of Rome's intentions and to conclude a 
treaty with Hannibal; it looked for a while as if he was going to 
open up a second front, but Rome, by sending a squadron to the 

i68 The Ancient Mariners 

Adriatic and by embroiling him with hostile neighbors, managed 
to keep him at home. The offer brought by Rhodes and Pergamum 
now provided an opportunity to square accounts, and the Senate 
grabbed at it. When it came to sending out the grand fleet, however, 
they held back. Of the two hundred galleys available, only fifty were 
dispatched. Why use more when there were the crack fleets of her 
new allies, Rhodes and Pergamum, to depend on? The Romans, 
after one of the most spectacular achievements in the history of naval 
warfare, at this point took their first step backward, a return to the 
old system of relying on the forces of nautically minded allies. 

The move hardly affected the war she was to fight now. Her squad- 
ron of fifty, matched by twenty from Rhodes and twenty-four from 
Pergamum, not only bottled Philip's fleet up for the duration of the 
war but provided convoys for the steady ferrying of men and sup- 
plies to Greece. The enemy never had a chance on the sea, and the 
issue was decided on land. In 197 B.C. Philip gave in; Rome became 
an acknowledged participant in the affairs of the east. 

Almost without taking a breather she rushed right into another 
war, this time with Antiochus III, king of Syria, a descendant of 
Alexander's cavalry officer, Seleucus. During the years that Macedon 
and Egypt had been dueling for the control of the eastern Mediter- 
ranean (pp. 149-50), the rulers of Syria by and large refrained from 
mixing in; they had troubles of their own to keep them busy in the 
interior of their vast empire. But Antiochus had other ideas and, 
when he started to build up a navy, his neighbors, Rhodes and 
Pergamum, grew uneasy; then, when he welcomed Hannibal, that 
bete noire of the Romans, to his court, the Senate joined in the feel- 
ing. The year 192 B.C. found the three allies once again lined up, 
this time to combat Antiochus. 

And this time there was more for the naval arm to do than just 
slog along convoying supply ships and transports. Antiochus had no 
mean fleet and it was commanded by a skilled admiral, Polyxenidas, 
a Rhodian who, after learning his trade in that best of academies, 
the island's naval service, had for some reason been exiled. The allies 
had to remove this obstacle before they could safely ferry an army 
into Asia Minor to strike the king at home. Eight years ago, against 
Philip, Rome had supplied half the naval forces; this time she fur- 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 169 

nished even less: of the i6o-odd ships required to beat Polyxenidas, 
only about seventy-five were Roman. 

The first round took place in the summer of 191 B.C. off Cissus, a 
port on the west coast of Asia Minor just northwest of Ephesus, and 
it went to Rome. She had 105 major units in action, most of them 
quinqueremes, and Polyxenidas could match this with only seventy 
triremes; he had some 130 light craft of various types but apparently 
they weren't of much help. He locked himself up in the harbor of 
Ephesus and reported to the king that he needed more and heavier 
vessels. When he reappeared the following year it was with two 
fleets, both of them among the heaviest to appear in the Mediter- 
ranean in half a century. In Ephesus he had an aggregation of ninety 
units; over half were bigger than triremes and there were two 
"sevens" and three "sixes." And coming up from the ports of 
Phoenicia, which Antiochus controlled at this time, was another of 
fifty units, including three more "sevens" and four "sixes," under 
the command of the redoubtable Hannibal. If the two ever joined 
they would outweigh and outnumber the whole allied force. The 
crucial job of preventing this was turned over to Rhodes. 

Every ship that the island had available was mustered. It wasn't 
much, thirty-two quadriremes and four triremes; but the officers and 
men were the cream of the service and the commander, Eudamus, 
was a skilled and astute veteran. Word reached him that Hannibal 
and his ships, having worked their way up the Syrian coast, were 
slogging westward under Asia Minor in the teeth of the prevailing 
northwesterlies. This gave him plenty of time to pick a point of his 
own choosing at which to intercept. Sometime in July or August of 
190 B.C. the two drew near each other, off the town of Side on the 
Gulf of Adalia in southern Asia Minor. 

Eudamus had a reputation for caution but this was one time when 
he had to take chances: if the fleets formed up facing each other in 
two long lines as was usual, the enemy with his superior numbers 
would outflank him. Hannibal, aware of that, had already drawn up 
his line. Eudamus took a deep breath, led his column out from 
shore, and suddenly, before the rest of his ships had time to set 
themselves fully in line behind him, darted ahead with a part of 
his force to engage the enemy's seaward wing, where Hannibal him- 
self was stationed. It was a gamble designed to attract Hannibal's 

170 The Ancient Mariners 

main attention until Eudamus could get one telling blow in some- 
how and even up the odds a bit. He was relying on the speed and 
skill of his crews and the initiative of his subordinates, and they 
didn't fail him. His rearmost ships, without taking time to line up 
formally, in a split-second maneuver swung into a diecplus aimed at 
the enemy's shoreward wing. It was executed perfectly: when they 
regrouped after the attack every vessel that had faced them was 
disabled; one Rhodian quadrireme had even single-handed knocked 
out a "seven." Then, in a spectacular burst of speed among the 
larger units there was nothing faster than a quadrireme they raced 
to seaward to help out their commander who naturally was having 
heavy going. Hannibal signaled the retreat; none of his ships had 
been sunk but over half had been put out of action. He threw over 
towlines to them and crept off. Eudamus took only one prize, the 
"seven" that had been knocked out in the first assault, but he had 
achieved his objective, had kept the enemy's two contingents from 
joining hands. It was a magnificent victory, reminiscent of the great 
actions fought by the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War (pp. 
103-4): Antiochus, thinking to take a leaf from the Romans' book, 
had gone in for heavier ships, and the Rhodians had shown that 
light vessels and trained crews could not only beat them but give 
them odds to boot. Eudamus turned to join the allied fleet off 
Ephesus, convinced his troubles were over. He was wrong; there 
was one serious one left. 

When the Romans took to the sea in the First Punic War they 
had had to put in command men who knew nothing about the 
water. The hair-raising losses suffered in storms forced them to work 
out some sort of system, and thereafter the squadrons were more or 
less kept in the hands of competent if not brilliant commanders. But 
in the war against Antiochus, the naval amateur made his appear- 
ance again and with a vengeance: even in Rome's well-filled gallery 
of bone-headed admirals there was none to match Lucius Aemilius 
Regillus, the man who in the spring of 190 B.C. had been entrusted 
with the fleet and now commanded the forces blockading the harbor 
of Ephesus. Before departing to take over his duties he had been 
told that the prime naval objective was to keep the Strait of the 
Dardanelles open so that the Roman army, marching around from 
Greece, could cross unmolested into Asia Minor and attack Anti- 

Landlubbers to Sea Lords 171 

ochus on his home grounds. So long as Hannibal's force was licking 
its wounds somewhere on the south coast of Asia Minor and Poly- 
xeiiidas' was securely bottled up in Ephesus, this objective was auto- 
matically attained; anyone with any sense could see this, Eudamus 
for example, or Polyxenidas himself, much to his dismay. Moreover 
the Romans already had a squadron posted at the strait. But Reg- 
illus had no sense. He was jittery: his place, he felt, was at the Dar- 
danelles even though it was still summer and the army, wearily 
tramping through Thrace, would not make its appearance until 
November. And he would actually have led the fleet up there, 
neatly uncorking Polyxenidas, had not Eudamus talked him out of 
it; the Rhodian had just risked his life and his nation's whole navy 
to win a victory against heavy odds and he wasn't going to stand by 
and watch all his hard-earned results go to waste. But he had to pay 
a price: Regillus agreed to stay put, but only on condition that 
twenty-three ships be detached and sent up north to reinforce the 
squadron there. There was nothing Eudamus could do about it; but 
he must have sworn some lurid Rhodian oaths since, by this move, 
Regillus was handing over superiority in numbers to the enemy on 
a silver platter. 

To Polyxenidas it was like being proffered a reprieve when the 
noose was already around his neck. Sooner or later he would have 
had to send his fleet out of the harbor in a desperate move to win 
back the seas and block the crossing of the Roman army; now he 
could do it with the odds in his favor. Sometime in September he 
led his ships out, eighty-nine units against the allies' eighty, and 
drew them up in a long line off Cape Myonnesus to fight it out- 

Regillus, having made the enemy a gift of the advantage in num- 
bers, almost handed him the battle as well. He took his place at the 
head of the allied line and ordered the Rhodian squadron to the 
rear to ride herd on stragglers. Luckily Eudamus was ready to dis- 
obey orders sooner than lose a fight. Knowing that Regillus was 
bound to get into trouble, he held his squadron of twenty-two quad- 
riremes at the ready; on some of them he ran out the fire pots which 
had proved their effectiveness earlier in the year (p. 152). Just as 
he anticipated, Polyxenidas with his superior numbers began to 
crumple up Regillus' seaward wing. At precisely the right moment, 
Eudamus sent his ships racing from the rear to the rescue. The 

172 The Ancient Mariners 

enemy vessels turned away from the fire pots, the Rhodian rams 
caught them in the sides, and the battle was won. Polyxenidas crept 
back into Ephesus and his fleet was still there when the war was 
decided in a great land battle the following year. 

The nation which, seventy-five years before, had hardly a ship to 
her name now ruled the Mediterranean from the Strait of Gibraltar 
to the coast of Syria. She treated it like an unwanted child. She 
pulled her fleet out of the eastern waters and left them to Rhodes 
and Pergamum; in the west, where there were no maritime allies to 
shoulder the burden for her, she resuscitated the plan of two minia- 
ture squadrons of ten ships apiece that she had used over one hun- 
dred years earlier (p. 158). When, in 171 B.C., Rome had to wage a 
second war with Macedon, against Philip's son Perseus, she fitted 
out just fifty quinqueremes and relied chiefly on Rhodes and Per- 
gamum, whom she had bound by treaty to furnish naval forces. 
Perseus, with nothing more than a catch-as-catch-can aggregation of 
pirate craft, was able to wreak havoc with her lines of supply. In a 
brief third war with Carthage in 146 B.C., fifty ships, most of them 
probably old, turned up again. By the end of the century her naval 
position seemed so secure that she shucked off even most of these. 

But for Rhodes it was the end of an era. She had called in Rome 
to counter first the threat of Philip, then that of Antiochus. Both 
kings had lost their navies and there was now no one left to challenge 
her on the sea. Rome had even rewarded her with some territory 
on the Asia Minor mainland to administer. But for all that, she had 
lost the game. She had called in Rome for the same reason that she 

had built up a superb fleet, to maintain her proud independence 

and that was lost, as she was very soon to find out. When it came, 
the blow was launched not at her navy but at her merchant marine. 
To understand it we must turn to the story of what was happening 
to trade on the sea in this age. 




IN THE BERUN MUSEUM'S voluminous collection o papyri from 
Egypt there used to be one scrappy piece whose battered lines of 
writing are the remains o a contract which was drawn up in Alex- 
andria some time around 150 B.C. One party to the contract was a 
group of five merchants who were planning a trip down the Red 
Sea to the "incense lands/' as Egyptian traders had been doing for 
millennia (pp. 9-13). Like most ancient shippers they were working 
with borrowed capital (p. 114): the party of the second part was a 
Greek who was putting up some of the money. The five partners too 
were Greek; one, as it happened, was from Sparta and a second from 
far-off Marseilles. Five other men endorsed to guarantee repayment; 
one of these was a Carthaginian, the other four soldiers stationed 
in Alexandria who may have had some of their spare cash invested 
in the venture. The funds were handled through a banker. He was 
a Roman. 

The document is almost unique; not more than two or three 
others like it are in existence. But more than that, it offers a picture 
in miniature of the key characteristics of trade in the Hellenistic 
world, the wide-flung world, run by Greeks, that Alexander opened 

174 The Ancient Mariners 

and that lasted until the first century B.C. when Rome finally swal- 
lowed it. Its commerce was international in scope and, as a conse- 
quence, its business relations were complex and its business methods 
highly developed; to the age-old exchange of commodities that the 
Mediterranean had always known it added a lucrative trade in 
exotic luxuries; and, during it all, Egypt managed to play a major 

Big cargoes require roomy ships and harbors, and far-flung trade 
routes a knowledge of geography and navigation. The Hellenistic 
world met the challenge: its progress in the peaceful arts of the sea 
matched what it had accomplished in naval warfare (Chapter 10) . 
The average merchantman now carried at least two hundred to 
three hundred tons of cargo, and many were larger. There is a de- 
scription preserved of one leviathan which could hold as many as 
1,600 tons so big, in fact, that only a few ports, such as Athens' 
Peiraeus or Rhodes, had the facilities to handle it. In a bravura dis- 
play of technical skill the shipwrights of Alexandria turned out an 
elephantine houseboat, a barge upon which a whole sumptuous villa 
was mounted, to enable King Ptolemy IV to ride the Nile in appro- 
priate style. Bigger ships meant bigger rigging. It was probably at 
this time that the distinctive sail of the ancient world known as the 
artemon (cf. p. 146), the bowspritsail, was designed (not to add 
speed so much as to make the steering of the larger vessels easier) , 
and that three-masters were first built, ships with artemon, main, 
and mizzen. The only superimposed sail that the ancients ever used 
was a triangular topsail set above the main; the earliest example 
does not appear until later under the Roman Empire (cf. PL 12) , 
but it was very likely invented in the Hellenistic period. It is a 
misfortune that, like the warships (p. 145), not one picture of the 
merchantmen of this age has been preserved, and all the naval his- 
torian has to go on are vague clues scattered here and there in mis- 
cellaneous writings. 

Good harbors were needed to handle the increased volume of 
trade and the bigger ships. Few Greek city-states with their limited 
resources could carry out such projects, but the Hellenistic rulers 
had adequate funds at their disposal. They improved their ports by 
building huge breakwaters to create capacious anchorages, setting 

East Meets West 175 

up lines of warehouses for storage, and replacing the sand beaches 
that had served the smaller ships of an earlier day with stone quays. 
Of the seven wonders of the ancient world two, the colossus of 
Rhodes and the lighthouse at Alexandria, adorned harbors of this 
age. ^ 

Skippers had at their disposal new improved charts and up-to- 
date "coast pilots," the result of spectacular progress in scientific 
geography. Eratosthenes, the great mathematician-astronomer-geog- 
rapher, calculated the circumference of the earth and arrived at a 
figure that came within two hundred miles of the true one; he 
pointed out that all the oceans were one, and concluded that a ship 
could eventually reach India by sailing westward from Spain 
thereby influencing the thoughts of an imaginative Genoese lad who 
came across an echo of his words some seventeen centuries later. 
Maps of the known world were constructed with parallels of lati- 
tude and meridians of longitude; in the best-known areas, for ex- 
ample, the parallel that ran from Gibraltar through Rhodes, they 
were remarkably accurate. And the only ancient navigational in- 
strument known to us belongs to these times (p. 189). 

In the third century B.C. Egypt played the leading role in com- 
merce that Athens had in the one previous. Like her predecessor she 
had the products to export, controlled the major trade routes, and 
maintained a powerful navy to police them. She had one great addi- 
tional advantage: her rulers at the rime, the first three Ptolemies, 
were among the shrewdest and most efficient businessmen known to 

What they were after was simple: export as much and import as 
little as possible, and keep the profits for themselves. They achieved 
it by a remarkable system of taxation, monopolies, and tariffs. The 
basic commodity of the ancient world was grain. Egypt had always 
produced and exported huge quantities. The Ptolemies reorganized 
her agriculture to yield the absolute maximum, taxed it so that the 
peasant was left with just enough of his harvest to live on, put the 
rest in the royal silos at Alexandria, and, exporting it all over the 
eastern Mediterranean, pocketed the proceeds. This didn't cut into 
the sales of other producers, such as Sicily and south Russia, but 
simply made available larger quantities of grain; it was the basis of 

176 The Ancient Mariners 

the ancients' diet and there was always a seller's market in it. When 
the king of Syracuse, for example, launched a huge grain carrier 
(the i,6oo-tonner mentioned above) and then discovered that it 
was too large to enter the harbors he shipped to, he willingly gave it 
to Ptolemy III. Next in importance to grain in the international 
market were olive oil and wine. Neither of these was produced in 
any quantity in Egypt: the people traditionally washed and cooked 
with vegetable- and seed-oil, and drank beer. The Ptolemies saw to it 
that they continued to do so by levying a tariff of 50 per cent on 
imported olive oil and 33^ per cent on imported wines, and turned 
brewing and the manufacture of oil into government monopolies. 
The ancient world's writing paper was either papyrus or parch- 
ment; papyrus was cheaper, practically all of it came from Egypt, 
and its manufacture and sale belonged to the crown. So too did the 
textile industry which, using locally grown flax, produced for export 
not only fine fabrics but very likely much of the linen that went 
into sailcloth. It was from such sources as these that the income 
came which enabled the first Ptolemies to build their capital into a 
magnificent showplace and an intellectual center, and the later to 
indulge their taste for such extravagances as floating villas. When 
ancient writers tried to describe the family's wealth they couldn't 
find terms lavish enough and no wonder. 

Egypt's trade was not completely a one-way affair. There were cer- 
tain things she had to import, but even here the Ptolemies were in 
luck, for territories under their control produced most of what was 
needed. Timber for the navy came from the pine forests of southern 
Asia Minor and the cedars of Lebanon. Pitch had to be bought; al- 
though one possible source, Macedon, was out of the question for 
political reasons, the kings of Pergamum who controlled the rich 
producing area around Troy were friendly. Cyprus was an Egyptian 
possession, and its prolific mines supplied all the copper needed. Tin 
and iron had to be imported, the first very likely from Carthage 
(cf. p. 72), the second from the southeast shore of the Black Sea 
and possibly from central Italy. There was a brisk traffic in delica- 
cies for the gourmet tastes of the wealthy Greeks of Egypt: honey 
from Athens, cheese from the Aegean Islands, nuts from the south 
shore of the Black Sea, figs from Asia Minor. This class of course 
wouldn't condescend to drink the peasants' beer, and insisted on 

East Meets West 177 

the fine wines of Syria and o western Asia Minor and its offshore 
islands. They paid the heavy tariff with no more reluctance than the 
American who today buys French champagne. What they imported, 
however, was strictly for their own tables; if they tried to sell any 
it was subject to confiscation. 

To make sure that nothing was smuggled in or out, the Ptolemies 
rigidly regulated their harbors. Ships had to have permission to 
enter, were assigned berths, had their cargoes checked item by item 
against cargo manifests, took on a return load under equally careful 
supervision, and left only after receiving clearance from the harbor 
master. An example of a cargo manifest has actually been preserved. 
Apollonius, Minister of Finance, Commerce and Industry under 
King Ptolemy II around 250 B.C., had as secretary a certain Zenon 
who was the sort that never threw away any papers. By great good 
luck part of his voluminous files were discovered, preserved from 
decay by Egypt's perennially dry climate (cf. p. 46). One of the 
documents recovered happens to be the manifest of two small coast- 
ing vessels that had loaded up at some Syrian port to discharge at 
Alexandria. They were carrying a cargo of expensive delicacies 
clearly intended for the tables of the rich, perhaps even for Apol- 
lonius himself, for the items included 

table wine 

63 jars [probably holding 

7 gals, each] 

2 half -jars 

dessert wine 

10 half-jars 

olive oil 

2 jars, i half-jar 


2 jars 


7 half-jars 

dried figs 

10 jars 


i jar, 3 baskets 

[= 214 bushels] 


i basket 


i jar 

wild boar meat 

10 jars 


2 jars 

goat meat 

2 jars 

rough sponges 

i basket 

soft sponges 

i basket 

x *8 The Ancient Mariners 

The Mediterranean had from very early times maintained some 
commercial relations with India and Arabia and Ethiopia (pp. 5-9), 
but the great period of such trade dates from this time. Around the 
middle of the fourth century B.C. Theophrastus, the famous Athe- 
nian botanist, knew pepper, which came from India, only as a med- 
icinal drug; three centuries later a rich Athenian had so much he 
could give away four quarts. The new wealthy class the great kings, 
the commanders of their armies or powerful bureaucrats in their 
administrations, the prosperous merchants and bankers and shippers 
wanted and could afford exotic luxuries. During the third century 
B.C. much of the traffic in them passed through the hands of the 
Ptolemies and their agents. 

From Yemen and the Hadramaut in south Arabia came perfumes 
and the myrrh and frankincense that smoked daily on thousands of 
altars all over the Mediterranean world; from Somaliland and 
Ethiopia, incense and ivory. Most of such imports traveled by cara- 
van through Arabia and either discharged at Gaza and Alexandria 
or continued farther north to the Phoenician ports; Egypt con- 
trolled all these terminal points. Some went by ship up the Red Sea 
and thence to Alexandria, either through the canal at the head of 
the Red Sea or, unloading at the ports on its west coast, by caravan 
across Egypt's eastern desert to the Nile and then downriver. This 
commerce was as old as the pharaohs (pp. 9*13), but the Ptolemies 
gave it their characteristic efficient organization. They improved the 
caravan tracks across the eastern desert, set up new harbors on the 
west coast of the Red Sea, and stationed a flotilla to hold down the 
pirates who haunted that body of water then and are still a problem 
there today. Until it reached the Mediterranean ports the traffic was 
almost wholly in the hands of Arab sailors and caravaneers, in par- 
ticular the Nabataeans whose capital at Petra, located near a nexus 
of caravan routes, embarked on its prosperous commercial career 
at this time. Only at the terminals did it pass to Egyptians or Syrians 
or Phoenicians. This created no conflict. None of the merchants of 
the ports were interested in camel driving, and they were perfectly 
willing to let Arab mariners struggle with the shoals, foul winds, 
and sizzling temperatures of the Red Sea. 

From India came such luxuries as pearls, gems, tortoise shell, 
perhaps even silk shipped there from China. But the big trade was 

East Meets West 179 

in the plants, bark, and wood from which cosmetics and spices were 
made spikenard, nard, cinnamon, ginger, and above all pepper, 
which swiftly became a standard entry in ancient recipes; in a world 
of hot temperatures and no refrigeration, a strong seasoning un- 
questionably came in handy. There were a number of ways of get- 
ting these exports to the Mediterranean. One, the overland caravan 
route, ran through northwest India and Afghanistan and Iran to 
Seleuceia, the new capital the Seleucids had founded northeast of 
Babylon, near modern Baghdad. From here it followed the tracks 
along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to northern Mesopotamia, 
where it split in three directions, either south to end up at the 
Phoenician ports of Tyre and Sidon, or west to Antioch, or on 
through lower Asia Minor, reaching the sea at Ephesus. A second 
route, in use for millennia (p. 8), combined sea and land: ships 
loaded at India's northwest ports, coasted westward, and turned up 
the Persian Gulf to discharge at its head; from there camels took 
the merchandise to Seleuceia where it merged with what came by 
way of the overland route. A third was all by water but it involved 
a wearisome voyage through pirate-infested seas, and the Ptolemies 
weren't overly enthusiastic about it so long as they had their share 
in the alternative caravan routes. It skirted the west coast of India, 
crossed the entrance of the Persian Gulf, and proceeded along the 
south shore of Arabia to the mouth of the Red Sea. From there it 
followed the track of Arabian and African goods to Alexandria. 
Indian and Arab sailors carried the cargoes as far as the Red Sea but 
only Arabs from that point on; they considered this body of water 
their private preserve and let no outsiders in. The Ptolemies had a 
stranglehold on this phase of commerce too: all Indian, Arabian, 
and African goods that entered Alexandria had to be sold to them 
and, if it was raw material, was processed in government-owned 
workshops. In some of these, the incense factories for example, 
workers were stripped naked on leaving to make sure they departed 
with nothing more valuable than their skins. The Ptolemies left 
little to chance. 

The large-scale and varied activity of Alexandria's waterfront, 
from the stevedoring of cheap bulky cargoes of grain to the delicate 
handling of expensive shipments of spices and incense, demanded 
the best in harbor facilities; the Ptolemies created there the finest 

jgo The Ancient Mariners 

port of the Mediterranean. Breakwaters strengthened and extended 
the arms of a natural lagoon and the whole expanse was split into 
two harbors, an eastern and a western, by a huge mole, three-quarters 
of a mile long. It led at its seaward end to the island of Pharos on 
which the architect Sostratus, at the command of Ptolemy I or II, 
built the famous lighthouse. This was a massive square tower on top 
of which eight columns, arranged in an octagon, framed a blazing 
fire; their roof supported a huge statue, probably of Ptolemy I, 
which brought the whole structure up to the impressive height of 
four hundred feet. It quickly came to symbolize the city, as high 
monuments have a way of doing, and tourists brought back sou- 
venirs adorned with its picture as enthusiastically as today's visitors 
to Paris collect gimcracks showing the Eiffel Tower. As time passed, 
its influence spread: it was hailed as one of the seven wonders, 
Roman architects modeled their major lighthouses on it, and it 
very likely had some effect on the form of Arab minarets. It stood 
nearer the eastern division of the harbor, which was the more im- 
portant: here the waterfront was ringed by the fine gardens that 
surrounded the royal residences, museum, and library, as well as by 
rows of warehouses and dockyards. The western harbor was for 
smaller craft, and channels leading out from it enabled them to 
sail through from the Mediterranean to the Nile. 

Three hundred and twenty-five miles north of Alexandria lay an- 
other great port which, in the first half of the Hellenistic period, 
moved into a position of wealth and commercial importance, partly 
by riding Egypt's coattails. Rhodes had a fine geographical position 
near the center of the eastern Mediterranean's trade routes, a large 
merchant marine, a powerful navy to protect it, and a business- 
minded aristocracy with ample capital at its disposal. Most of the 
thousands of bushels of grain that the Ptolemies shipped out yearly, 
as well as much of their other exports, left Egypt in Rhodian bot- 
toms and proceeded to Rhodes for transshipment to the ultimate 
destinations. But Rhodes' commercial relations were limited neither 
to Egypt nor to freight charters. She had two other sources of profit: 
banking and the wine trade. The island was one vast vineyard which 
produced lavish quantities of cheap wine. This was shipped out in 
large, distinctively shaped jars, and archaeologists have found re- 

East Meets West 181 

mains of literally hundreds of thousands of these containers in an- 
cient sites from the shores of the Black Sea to the coasts of Spain. 
They turn up in quantity, as one would expect, in Egypt and the 
Aegean isles. But many have been found in south Russia; Rhodian 
ships must have been busy in that area, ferrying in wine in exchange 
for return cargoes of grain to be distributed to the Greek world (cf. 
p. 113). Wherever Rhodian cargoes went, Rhodian bankers fol- 
lowed; when, for example, an Arab sheikh of what is today Algeria 
decided to try to enter the international market with some of his 
surplus grain, he worked through a Rhodian banker. Nothing shows 
more clearly how crucial a role the island played in the international 
economic scene than what happened when, in 226 B.C., a disastrous 
earthquake hit her. All the great powers and some of the smaller 
rushed in handsome grants of aid. Ptolemy IV, in particular, sent 
thirty thousand tons of grain, the second largest single shipment re- 
corded in antiquity Rhodes was, after all, one of his best custom- 
ers. The island collected an annual return of one million drachmas 
from the 2 per cent tax on all merchandise that went in and out of 
her harbor (cf . p. 1 1 1), five times what Athens had petted from the 
same source two hundred years earlier. It is no surprise that the first 
organized code of maritime law, one that contained some of the 
seeds from which our present law of the sea has grown, was laid 
down and codified by the Rhodians. 

Three characteristics in particular marked the island's way of 
doing business: efficiency, fair dealing and Rhodes for the Rho- 
dians. Athens had been forced to depend heavily on foreigners 
(p. 120); she had had the capital to invest, but few citizens inter- 
ested in the shipping trade. Rhodes had both. The foreigners to be 
found there were chiefly Phoenicians and Greeks from Asia Minor 
and Egypt, men whose presence business required. None were 
granted full citizenship. The citizens made the profits and with 
them maintained their superb navy, constructed a port that was a 
model of efficiency, and adorned their city with imposing public 
buildings and expensive works of art, among them (until the earth- 
quake toppled it) the famous colossus that was one of the seven 
wonders of the world, a huge statue of the sun god set on the sea- 
ward end of an arm of the harbor. 

Rhodes and Alexandria were in a class by themselves. Together 

xSs The Ancient Mariners 

they handled a vast trade in grain which no other port could match, 
and to this they were able to add a share of the lucrative transit 
trade in caravan goods. This was the icing on their cake of com- 
merce: it gave extra work to sailors and longshoremen, opened new 
sources of profit for bankers and brokers, and, through the standard 
fee of 2 per cent on harbor traffic, helped fill the public treasury. 
But the two were merely the greatest among a dozen rich and active 
Mediterranean entrepdts. Ephesus shipped out fine Asia Minor 
wines, Sidon expensive glassware, Tyre her traditional purple-dyed 
fabrics, and all three at the same time served as terminals for the 
caravans from India and Arabia. Others, too, had their share of 
this traffic, Gaza, Beirut, Seleuceia the port of Antioch. Athens fell 
behind in this age because, although she still did a brisk business in 
exporting olive oil and importing grain, the transit trade largely 
bypassed her: to reach her, ships from most of the caravan ports had 
to detour to the north and buck the Etesian winds (p. 115) in the 
process. Far off in the western sector of the Mediterranean, Carthage 
was still going strong on transit trade, the forwarding of British tin 
and Spanish minerals to customers all over the Mediterranean 

(P- 7*)- 

By 150 B.C. or a little later Rhodes' trade had been given a bruis- 
ing blow, Egypt was almost shut out of the traffic in caravan goods, 
and Carthage lay in ashes. A new character had come upon the stage, 
and her entrance changed the commercial mise en scene as much 
as the political: Rome became not only the east's acknowledged 
master, but its best customer as well. 

It wasn't Egyptian grain or Greek olive oil or Asia Minor wines 
the newcomer bought; she exported such products herself, and the 
trade in these commodities in the eastern Mediterranean went on 
much as before. The powerful senatorial families who ran Rome 
and her conquered territories at this time were now rich men, living 
on vast estates and able to afford whatever luxuries were available. 
They wanted two things above all else: slaves to run their planta- 
tions, and art and exotic wares to add grace to their way of life. The 
east was ready to supply both, and the business-minded Greeks of 
south Italy (cf. pp. 79, 158) were ready to step in and act as middle- 
men. The flow of goods from India and Arabia, which had been 

East Meets West 183 

steadily growing since the Hellenistic period opened, now swelled 
to a flood and channeled itself toward Italy. Rome's unceasing wars, 
first with Carthage and then with the Greek powers of the east 
(Chapter 11), had thrown thousands of prisoners on the slave 
markets; the movement of this commodity, too, now turned toward 
the west and when, with the end of hostilities, the supply started to 
run low, pirates stepped in to replenish it. And Athens got a new 
lease on commercial life by mass-producing works of art for the 
Roman market, both originals as well as copies of old masters; some 
of the ancient statuary in museums today was turned out in her 
workshops at this time. Luxuries and art and slaves for Rome were 
the outstanding ingredients of trade in the second half of the Hel- 
lenistic age. But neither Rhodes nor Alexandria played the leading 
roles they had earlier. 

Rhodes was a proud nation run by an exclusive group of aristo- 
crats who found it hard to flatter the new ruling power and followed 
as independent a line as possible. In 16*7 B.C. the Romans brought 
her sharply to heel by hitting her where she was most vulnerable. 

In the middle of the Aegean lies the tiny island of Delos. Despite 
its size, it was from earliest times important as the site of a sanctuary 
of Apollo where a great yearly festival took place. During the first 
part of the Hellenistic age the island was independent and in a 
small way started to develop some sidelines to its annual pilgrim 
trade. Rhodes in particular used it as a distribution point for grain 
shipments to nearby islands and as a branch banking center. Delos 
was the instrument the Romans used to teach Rhodes a lesson. In 
167 they handed it over to their faithful ally, Athens with the 
stipulation that it was to be a free port, that no harbor or customs 
dues were to be collected there. 

Within a year harbor receipts at Rhodes plummeted from 1,000,- 
ooo drachmas to 150,000. The island did not go bankrupt. It still 
had its merchant marine and there was still money to be made haul- 
ing Egyptian and south Russian grain, and selling wine. But her 
harbor revenue was now limited to the big ships carrying bulky 
cargoes of grain and wine, which found it convenient to use her 
capacious port; the trade in slaves and caravan goods went to the 
free port of Delos. Funds were no longer available to maintain the 
fleet and its vital anti-pirate patrols, a turn of events that quickly 

184 The Ancient Mariners 

proved disastrous for international commerce; probably the Rho- 
dians got some belated satisfaction when the Romans eventually 
turned out to be the chief sufferers (p. 201). 

By about 130 B.C. Delos hit her stride. The harbor was far from 
large, and poorly protected, much inferior to Rhodes' or to any 
number of others nearby, but that hardly mattered. Slave ships were 
built to put in anywhere, and small freighters could carry a fortune 
in spices and perfumes. French archaeologists have completely ex- 
cavated the island and they have discovered that its long lines of 
warehouses were connected only with the quays, not with the town 
behind striking evidence that Delos' trade was strictly transient: 
the merchandise moved in, unloaded, reloaded, and moved out. The 
slave market could handle thousands daily, and business was so good 
that the locals had a saying: "Merchant, sail in and unloadl Every- 
thing's as good as sold." 

There was more than merely the free port to bring the trade in 
luxuries and slaves to Delos. Rhodes prided itself on fair dealing, 
was ruthless with pirates, and maintained a standoffish attitude 
toward foreigners. Delos was frankly devoted to making money. 
Sharp south Italian dealers, wily near-Eastern traders, and raffish 
pirate slavers found its realistic commercial atmosphere and its so- 
ciety, where money gave entree to the best circles, far more to their 
taste than that of the stiff-necked city which had created an effective 
sea police and laid down the world's first maritime code. It was the 
difference between doing business in Tangiers, say, as against 

Like filings to a magnet there flocked to the island Greeks from 
Asia Minor and Alexandria, Phoenicians, Syrians, Jews, even far- 
distant Arabs Nabataeans from Petra, Minaeans and Sabaeans 
from Yemen and the Hadramaut, the land of Saba (or Sheba as the 
Bible calls it). To meet them came Rome's middlemen, the south 
Italians, who soon formed the largest group on Delos. All brought 
their gods with them, as foreigners always do, and archaeologists 
have uncovered shrines or statues of Asia Minor's Cybele, Syria's 
Hadad and Atargatis, Phoenicia's Melqart; Apollo was sharing his 
sacred island with some curious colleagues. Inscriptions have been 
found in Latin and Greek and Semitic characters; the port must 
have heard a babble of tongues. The various groups formed associa- 

East Meets West 185 

tions "Merchants and Shipowners of Tyre," "Italian Oil Dealers," 
"Merchants, Shipowners and Warehousemen of Beirut" primarily 
for religious and social reasons but, just as many a deal today is 
consummated at the bar of a golf club, they served business pur- 
poses as well. They actually became the government after a time: 
when Rome made the island a free port she gave it to Athens to ad- 
minister; three decades or so later a coalition of these associations 
governed the island. 

From the great terminals at the end of the caravan routes mer- 
chants brought to Delos their precious wares and from everywhere, 
but particularly from Syria and Asia Minor, slavers their pathetic 
cargoes. The lion's share was turned over to the South Italians who 
paid for it partly in Italian wine and olive oil but mostly in cash, 
and forwarded it to Puteoli, Pozzuoli today, the port of Naples. In 
the background were local shippers, wholesalers, shopkeepers, and 
the like, who were needed to supply with all the necessities of life a 
motley population of twenty thousand to thirty thousand souls 
packed in an area a little over one square mile in extent. It was 
only in this traffic in goods for home consumption that Rhodes now 
played any part: she sold the island grain and wine. Egypt narrowly 
avoided being squeezed out completely. 

Ever since the end of the third century B.C. Egypt had been in a 
decline. The complex administrative machinery so painstakingly 
built up by the first Ptolemies began to run down. Macedon broke 
their command of the sea (p. 150), and Rhodes and Pergamum now 
shared the waters they once had ruled. More important, Egypt lost 
many of her extraterritorial possessions. The worst blow came when, 
in 198 B.C., the Seleucids took away Syria and Phoenicia through 
which so much of the caravan traffic passed. She was reduced to 
what came by the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, and competition 
from the alternative caravan routes, strenuously encouraged by her 
rivals, bit deeply into this. Help was needed; it came in an unex- 
pected way. 

The sea voyage between India and Egypt is actually relatively easy 
because of the phenomenon of India's monsoons. From May to Sep- 
tember the winds blow steadily from the southwest. A skipper can 
leave the mouth of the Red Sea, stand off the south coast of Arabia, 
and then strike boldly across open water, and the southwest mon- 

!86 The Ancient Mariners 

soon, coming steadily over the starboard quarter, nearly astern, will 
carry him directly to India. By delaying his return until any time 
between November and March, when the monsoon shifts to exactly 
the reverse direction, the northeast, he can make the voyage back 
just as easily. The Indians, who used sturdy seagoing craft, must 
have made full use of these winds, but the Arabs only in part, since 
their boats were too light. Arab shipwrights used to fasten the planks 
of a hull by stitching them to each other with coconut fiber, instead 
of pinning them firmly to ribs; they did it at first probably because 
iron for nails was scarce, but, with the seaman's usual conservatism, 
they clung to the tradition long after, up to the fifteenth century as 
a matter of fact, even though it meant as much bailing as sailing for 
the crews in any sort of weather. Such craft could travel westward 
before the northeast monsoon without any trouble since it is fairly 
moderate, but the blustery southwest monsoon kicks up a consider- 
able sea and Arab skippers must have stuck close to shore during the 
eastward voyage or squeezed both legs into the season of the north- 
east monsoon, as they did in the Middle Ages and still do today. In 
any event, both Indians and Arabs cooperated in keeping what they 
knew about the behavior of these winds strictly to themselves, since 
neither was minded to divulge trade secrets to possible competitors. 
The Arabs, moreover, went on the assumption that any strangers in 
the area were fair game for attack. 

The merchants of Egypt were familiar with the long coastal route 
to India but it did them little good: the Indians and Arabs along 
with Egypt's rivals, the Seleucids, controlled the whole of the shore 
line involved, and even the most adventuresome skipper wasn't 
going to risk a voyage where there was no place to take refuge either 
from the weather or from attack. What was needed was a way to 
reach India that would bypass these obstacles.. The answer came 
sometime around 120 B.C. A half-drowned sailor was brought to the 
Court of King Ptolemy VII. After being nursed back to health and 
taught Greek he gave out the story that he was an Indian, sole sur- 
vivor of his crew, and offered to prove it by showing anyone the 
king picked the way back to his home. He was lucky: Eudoxus, the 
most daring and energetic explorer of the day, happened to be in 
Alexandria at the time (he was a native of Cyzicus, a rich commer- 
cial city on the Sea of Marmora). He made two round trips to India. 

East Meets West 187 

On his return from the second he ran straight before the monsoon 
instead of keeping it on his quarter, and landed well south on the 
east coast of Africa where, in the best explorer tradition, he made 
friends with the natives by giving them strange delicacies (bread, 
wine, and dried figs apparently did the trick) . On both trips he 
brought back a load of spices, only to see them confiscated by Ptole- 
my's customs officials. To avoid such humiliation a third rime he 
made the decision, drastic but characteristic, to sail to India by go- 
ing around Africa and thereby bypass Ptolemy's inquisitive agents. 
He got together a well-equipped and well-planned expedition (there 
were even dancing boys and girls aboard, whether for the harems of 
Indian rajahs or to help while away the long days at sea, we can't be 
sure) , and made it as far as the Atlantic coast of Morocco where a 
mutiny turned him back. Undiscouraged he fitted out a second 
expedition just as carefully like Necho's Phoenicians (p. 131) he 
included in his plans stops en route to sow and reap crops and it 
vanished without a trace. Bad luck dogged him even after his death. 
It must have been he who brought back to the Greeks the secret 
of the monsoons, but later generations gave the credit to a pilot 
named Hippalus. Nothing else is known about this figure. It's a 
shrewd guess but only a guess that he was Eudoxus' navigator. 

In any event, the explorer's voyages put Egypt back in the run- 
ning. She now had a quick route, relatively safe from attack war- 
ships and pirate craft were too light to venture far from the shore 
(p. 102) which could successfully compete with the caravan tracks. 
Alexandrian warehousemen set up on Delos, Greek merchants in 
India, and Indian shippers in Alexandria. 

The second half of the Hellenistic age was the heyday of the 
south Italian businessman. Delos was not the only place where he 
was found; he followed the Roman armies into Greece, Thrace, 
Asia Minor, and Syria. Nor did he stick to the coast. He was a 
banker and investor as well as a merchant, and was willing to put 
his money into anything that promised a profit. He bought and ran 
farms, invested in mortgages, lent money to businessmen, to cities, 
even to kings. It is no surprise to find in the contract mentioned 
at the beginning of this chapter that the funds were handled by a 
banker with the good Roman name of Gnaeus. 

i88 The Ancient Mariners 

In 88 B.C., during a bitter war between Rome and Mith- 
ridates VI, one of the powerful kings of Asia Minor, Delos 
was sacked. It had just about staggered to its feet from this blow 
when, in 69 B.C., a band of pirates overran and utterly devastated 
it. The island never recovered. It had served its purpose. When the 
dealers in caravan goods were first sensing the new drift in the cur- 
rent of their trade, toward Italy, they needed a convenient clearing 
house; moreover Delos was perfectly located for the traffic in slaves 
from Thrace, Syria, and Asia Minor. But when the current of trade 
established itself and the supply of slaves began to peter out, the 
island lost its reason for being. Italians and foreigners moved out, 
lock, stock, and barrel, set themselves up at Pozzuoli, and made it 
into a second Delos. The abandoned site lingered on as a ghost 
town to become eventually an ideal subject for the excavator's 

In the west the South Italians had a bonanza: they fell heir, 
jointly with the merchants of Marseilles, to the rich traffic that had 
once passed through Carthage. But this was not all. There was 
another phase of their activity in this area that remained all but 
unknown to history until very recently when archaeology's newest 
branch, underwater exploration, uncovered it. 

i 3 Sea 


SHORTLY BEFORE EASTER in the year 1900 a group of Greek sponge 
divers, returning from their season off Tunisia, ran into a storm 
and took refuge in a sheltered cove on Anticythera, a little island 
off the south coast of Greece. Just to pass the time, some of the 
crew slipped over the side. When, a few minutes later, one reap- 
peared lugging the bronze arm of a Greek statue, underwater 
archaeology was born. 

Its babyhood was spectacular. The divers had had the astound- 
ing good fortune to stumble upon the wreck of a vessel which had 
been carrying works of art from Athens to Italy (cf. p. 183) some 
time in the first century B.C. when it went down. The Greek gov- 
ernment undertook to salvage the cargo. The only personnel avail- 
able for the work were sponge fishermen who, though they found 
excavating statues buried on the bottom a far cry from cutting 
away sponges, through herculean efforts managed to carry it off 
successfully. What they rescued was priceless: some fine bronzes, 
two of which are among the Athens Museum's prize pieces, a row 
of magnificent glass bowls, very likely imports to Athens from 
Alexandria or Syria, even a nautical instrument, a form of astro- 


igo The Ancient Mariners 

A few years later came another rare piece of luck, again involving 
sponge divers. A group which had been working off Mahdia on the 
coast of Tunis circulated the story that they had seen a row of 
cannon on the sea floor. It came to the local director of antiquities, 
Alfred Merlin, and piqued his interest. He sent some divers down 
and quickly found out that the so-called cannon were a row of 
prefabricated temple columns lying on the deck of a ship that had 
sunk probably in the early part of the first century B.C. Merlin de- 
cided to carry out a full-fledged underwater excavation. He rounded 
up a squad of sponge fishermen, got the French navy to lend a hand 
by supplying a salvage ship, and in 1907 began the first of a series 
of grueling campaigns. It was a fight against time and wind and 
weather the navy kept recalling its ship, rough seas often pre- 
vented any diving, storms occasionally destroyed his markers and 
the wreck had to be painfully discovered all over again and, de- 
spite seven years of work, the job was never fully completed. But 
what he found well paid for his efforts. The vessel, in addition to 
the prefabricated parts, turned out to have been carrying works of 
art it, too, was probably on the Athens-Italy run when it went 
down and his divers rescued enough to fill half a dozen rooms of 
the Bardo Museum in Tunis with sculpture. 

The two discoveries naturally raised the highest hopes for the 
future. World War I interrupted things for a while, but prospects 
again brightened when fishermen, working in the strait between 
the Greek mainland and the northern end of the island of Euboea, 
brought up a superb bronze statue of Zeus, now one of the trea- 
sures of the Athens Museum. The wreck itself, however, was never 
discovered, and no further reports of finds were forthcoming. 

It was not until decades later that anything like the thorough 
investigation Merlin had carried out at Mahdia was again at- 
tempted. The fishermen of Albenga, a town on the Italian Riviera, 
had known since 1925 of the presence of a wreck with a cargo of 
clay jars off their shores. In 1950 one of Italy's famous salvage ex- 
perts was persuaded to try his hand at it. He put one of his superbly 
equipped salvage ships at the disposal of archaeology and in twelve 
days his men managed to bring up 700 jars and some scraps of the 
hull and its fittings. Those few days were all the salvage vessel could 
be spared for, and the rest of the cargo, over two thousand more jars 
according to the best estimate, had to be left on the bottom. 

Sea Digging igi 

Sea digging such as took place at Albenga and Mahdia had little 
future. The one had depended on the philanthropy of a salvage 
company, the other on sponge fishermen and a helping hand from 
the French navy. Underwater archaeology had to find other re- 
sources if it was to get anywhere. A French naval officer, Com- 
mandant Jacques-Ives Cousteau, supplied the answer. 

An apparatus that did away with the need for pumps and crews, 
expensive diving suits and helmets, had been known in one form 
or another since as early as the i86o's. In 1943 the commandant 
perfected a simplified version, now known as the Cousteau-Gagnon 
apparatus, which transformed diving from a strictly professional 
field into one that was open to amateurs. It consisted of one to 
three bottles of compressed air connected with a mouthpiece and 
held by a harness which the diver strapped on his back. A big 
goggle fitting over eyes and nose, and a pair of rubber fins that 
slipped over the feet, items for sale in any sporting-goods shop, 
completed the outfit. 

The use of the new device called free diving to distinguish it 
from that in which the diver is coupled by an airhose to the sur- 
face found its most enthusiastic practitioners among the French. 
They concentrated their efforts at first along their own Riviera, and 
very quickly startling reports began to come in of the discovery of 
not one or two, but of numbers of Greek and Roman wrecks. Soon 
they, as well as others infected by their enthusiasm, moved farther 
afield; and wrecks began to turn up along the Italian Riviera, in 
the straits between Sardinia and Corsica, off Greece and the Aegean 
Islands. However, unlike the first discoveries, none of these, it 
turned out, were carrying works of art. Like the one off Albenga, 
they had been loaded for the most part with the items that bulked 
so large in the commerce of the Greeks and Romans, wine and oil. 

Shippers package cargoes today in wooden tubs or barrels, paper 
cartons, metal drums or the like. In the ancient world the standard 
shipping container was the amphora, a heavy clay jar that generally 
held between five and ten gallons. Long before any ancient wrecks 
were discovered a good deal was known about these containers be- 
cause quantities of them turned up in many an archaeological ex- 
cavation on land; the ones used by the Rhodians are a notable case 
in point (p. 180). The key element in underwater archaeology to- 
day is these jars. The wrecks that the free divers were discovering 

igs The Ancient Mariners 

were not at all like the mental image we commonly have of a ro- 
mantic hulk half buried in sand; most often all that was left of 
them were the containers which held their cargoes, a mound of 
amphorae jutting up from the sea floor or an expanse of them 
strewn over it (PL ga) . When such objects, crusted with marine 
growth, are brought to a museum curator he can hardly be blamed 
for not displaying them among his treasured pieces any more than a 
gallery of modern art will put on a showing of packing cases. But 
the naval historian is delighted to get them. These ugly ducklings of 
archaeology are the living proof of the breadth and volume of an- 
cient commerce. 

The first scientific investigation of a wreck with the use of the 
new apparatus took place in February 1952. A few miles outside 
the harbor of Marseilles lies a cluster of tiny islands which are lit- 
tle more than barren outcroppings of rock. Off one of these, the 
Grand Conglou^, a diver had spotted in 1949 a group of amphorae 
lying on the sea floor. The word subsequently reached Cousteau, and 
the idea came to him of excavating it just as an archaeologist 
would a site on land. The wreck was ideally located. It was about 
130 feet below the surface, deep enough to escape the attentions 
of souvenir-hunting French amateurs and yet above the point 
where the water gets too cold for free divers to work in. More im- 
portant, it lay right alongside one slope of the Grand Conglou6 so 
that Cousteau was able to set up diving installations on the island 
itself and do away with the delay and expense of ferrying divers in 
and out daily. With Cousteau providing the technical know-how 
and Fernand Benoit, director of antiquities for the region and 
curator of the museum at Marseilles, looking out for the archaeo- 
logical end, the work got under way. 

Progress was painfully slow. The divers were limited to twenty 
minutes on the bottom, including the time it took for them to get 
up and down; only two dives a day were permitted, and there were 
usually not more than two or three men on hand at any time. 
Often the weather stopped all work. Not only muck and marine 
growth covered the wreck but huge boulders had crashed down into 
it from the slope above, and the divers had to remove all this before 
they could get at the vessel itself. Moreover, since they were pio- 
neers, they had to invent the art of underwater archaeology as they 
went along. They perfected important tools: a basket raised by a 

Sea Digging 1Q3 

derrick to bring up heavy objects, a powerful underwater vacuum 
cleaner to suck away sand or mud or marine growth, underwater 
lights to illumine the work. They perfected techniques of mapping 
with precision what they had found on the bottom, and of photo- 
graphing underwater to record it before it was disturbed. 

The ship proved to be a big merchantman, about one hundred 
feet long, that had been carrying a capacity cargo of wine and per- 
haps oil. The hold was filled with tubby amphorae of a shape com- 
mon in Greek archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean. 
The deck was covered (cf. PL gb) with jars of a tall slender shape 
found in Italy and generally assigned to the second century B.C. 
These had been stowed, standing upright, on every square inch 
of space available; almost two thousand have been recovered and 
brought to the Marseilles Museum and many more are still in 
place. They had been smeared on the inside with resin to prevent 
seepage and sealed so carefully that a number still had their plugs 
in place, a cork topped by a cement stopper. Some bore on the 
stopper the name of the wineseller who had filled them, and some 
on the lip the name of the shipper who had exported them. In the 
hold, along with the jars there, was a shipment of cheap dishware, 
of a type frequently found in South Italy. A number of miscel- 
laneous objects were recovered: dishes and bowls that probably 
came from the ship's galley, bronze fittings, an anchor, some frag- 
ments of the hull all in all, enough to fill a bank of display cases 
in the Marseilles Museum with a unique display. 

Cousteau supervised the actual digging, but it was Benoit's task 
to reconstruct the story of the vessel. All he had to go on was the 
contents of the cargo and what was generally known of the move- 
ments of ancient commerce. The end of the story was the easiest: 
the vessel clearly had shoved off from some South Italian port, most 
likely in the area of Naples, some time in the second century B.C. 
with a deckload of the fine wine grown in that area and a hold full 
of Greek wine or oil, perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 gallons in all. It was 
headed for Marseilles where the bulk of the cargo would be dis- 
tributed to the interior. Almost within sight of the destination, 
while threading the needle of the narrow channel between the 
Grand Conglou and the mainland, the ship went down. Just how 
is anybody's guess; but there's little doubt that the top-heavy deck- 
load was a hazard. The beginning of the story is not so certain. 

ig4 The Ancient Mariners 

The vessel may have started the voyage that was to be its last in 
eastern waters, where it picked up the Greek jars, and then made 
for Italy. Or these may have reached Italy on some other boat and 
the whole cargo, the load in the hold as well as on deck, been taken 
on there. 

It had been known in a general way that Italy exported wine 
and oil to France in the later part of the Hellenistic age, but until 
the sea diggers started work no one realized that vessels and ship- 
ments so large were involved. Neither the Grand Congloue ship 
nor the one found off Albenga were little tramps that worked the 
coast picking up general cargo as they went along; they were big 
freighters carrying a full load from one major point to another. 
Moreover, from French amateurs, diving at random along the 
Riviera, reports started to come in thick and fast of additional finds: 
a jar or two in one place, a scattering of them in a second, an im- 
posing mound in a third. When it was all collated, the results were 
astounding: between Marseilles and the Italian border alone there 
were seventeen wrecks pinpointed with certainty and the likelihood 
that there were many more. They ranged in date from the sixth 
century B.C. (a vessel carrying Etruscan jars) to the fourth A.D., al- 
though most belonged to the second and first B.C. Where their size 
could be estimated they turned out to be big, one hundred feet 
long or better. Here was proof positive that the coastal area from 
Italy to Marseilles was a waterway for international trade as early 
as 600 B.C. and that shortly after 200 B.C. it was the scene of traffic 
on a large scale, the equal of anything that was going on in east- 
ern waters among the Greek states. 

Wine and oil were not the only items that traveled along this 
coast. Though they are, to be sure, two of the most important com- 
modities handled by shippers all during ancient times, they also 
happen to be the ones the sea diggers find most easily. A clay jar 
is practically everlasting whether buried in earth or in water, and 
a load of them, lying on the bottom like a stack of huge frank- 
furters, is an eye-catching sight (PL ga) . Ships carrying other 
cargoes must have been wrecked along the coast but they left either 
no trace grain, for example, packed as it was in sacks would dis- 
appear completely or such slight ones that divers have not yet 
learned to recognize them. 

Sea Digging ig5 

Before the days of underwater archaeology discouragingly little 
was known of the size and capacity of ancient seagoing merchant- 
men and practically nothing of their construction; all there was to 
go on was a handful of paintings and sculptures and a batch of 
stray remarks in ancient writers, and neither source had much de- 
tail to offer. The sea diggers are gradually filling in some of the 
information needed. They have produced the first concrete evidence 
of the size of these vessels the wrecks of the Grand Congloue and 
Albenga are about 100 feet long and a third, off Antheor, is just 
slightly less; that off Mahdia is over 130 feet long and about 40 in 
beam, and another in the Strait of Bonifacio is about 100 x 25. And, 
in the museums at Marseilles and Cannes and Albenga the visitor 
can examine actual pieces of the hull and bits of the hardware and 
gear of vessels over two thousand years old. 

Albenga is particularly interesting. Besides examples of the sort 
of equipment divers usually recover bronze rings probably once 
sewn to the sail as fair-leads for the brails (cf. PL 12), anchor 
stocks, pieces of lead sheet, and the like there is on display a frag- 
ment of a rib and a chunk of the planking which reveal the care 
and craft of the shipwright who constructed this vessel. He used 
ribs of oak, four inches square, set them 8 ^ inches apart, and cov- 
ered them with a skin of fir planking, one inch thick. The specifica- 
tions seem rather light considering the vessel's size, but his method 
of joining more than made up for this; it is more cabinetwork than 
ship carpentry. He pinned planks to ribs by wooden pegs as ship 
builders have done in all ages, but to make sure his pegs fitted 
tightly he drove copper nails through the middle of each to make 
it expand and sit snugly in its hole. Moreover, to keep a plank from 
working loose where there were no pegs to hold it fast, he locked 
each to its neighbor above and below with mortise and tenon joints 
at the midpoint of the spaces between the ribs. As a result of all 
this, the hull must have been extraordinarily strong and tight. Like 
the builders of later ages, to keep marine borers and growth from 
spoiling his handiwork he sheathed at least the underwater surface 
with lead sheeting and pinned it to the wood with stumpy copper 

As it happens, the construction of the Albenga ship is not unique. 
It is paralleled in a pair of boats which came to light as the result 


The Ancient Mariners 

more of a feat of hydraulic engineering than of sea digging. The 
Roman emperor Caligula kept two enormous pleasure barges he 

may have got the idea from Ptolemy IV's floating villa (p. 174) on 

Lake Nemi, some twenty miles south of Rome. In the 1930'$, at 

Fig. 5. Anchor with removable stock from one of Caligula's barges. 

the cost of a vast amount of money and trouble, the Italian govern- 
ment pumped out the lake until the barges were visible, raised 
them, and put them in a museum specially built for the purpose 
on the shore, where they stayed until the Nazis wantonly burned 
them when they evacuated the area in 1944. The superstructures 
were gone but the hulls were in very good shape; one measured 
overall 240 feet in length and 69 in beam and the other was just a 
shade smaller (234 feet by 66 feet) . What is particularly interest- 

Sea Digging i 97 

ing is that the hulls were put together practically the same way as 
that of the Albenga boat: the planks were fastened to each other 
by mortise and tenon joints and pinned to the ribs with pegs 
through which copper nails were driven; and the whole outer 
surface was sheathed in lead laid over a skin of woolen fabric im- 
pregnated with tar. 

Since every ancient vessel of any size carried several anchors 
five were counted in the site off Mahdia the sea diggers, once they 
locate a wreck, usually come up with at least one and, consequently, 
there are a good many specimens on display in the museums; the 
room of maritime history at Marseilles, for example, has a fine se- 
lection. The piece most often recovered is the stock because it was 
made either all of lead or of lead wrapped about a core of wood; 
the shank and arms, being of wood, have, with few exceptions, been 
destroyed by the action of the water. The stocks found are often 
very heavy: seven hundred and eight hundred pounds is not un- 
usual, and one giant, fished up off Cartagena in Spain, is over seven 
feet long and weighs better than fifteen hundred pounds another 
indication of the large size of the vessels involved. Not all are alike. 
Some were socketed permanently to a shank but others were re- 
movable; that is, they could be slipped off the shank so that the 
whole anchor could be made to lie flat on the deck and out of the 
way when not in use (Fig. 5) . Apparently this convenient type 
was forgotten even before the end of the Roman Empire and stayed 
forgotten until the Dutch rediscovered it in the eighteenth century 
and the British navy adopted it in the middle of the nineteenth. 
Sometimes anchors were made all of iron or of iron sheathed in 
wood (Fig. 5) and a number of these have been fished up in var- 
ious places. 

The great hope, of course, is that the sea diggers will eventually 
do what the Italian engineers did for Caligula's barges: raise a 
whole hull and give the world its first look at an ancient mer- 
chantman. Such an achievement is not very likely at the moment. 
The expense would be enormous; but, even more serious, the care 
of the wood it deteriorates as soon as it leaves the water poses 
a problem that no one has yet solved. But this is a minor disap- 
pointment. Underwater archaeology is still very, very young and a 
long career lies ahead. It has much to add to many a chapter in the 
story of ancient commerce and naval architecture. 

of Cilicia 

IT CANNOT HAVE BEEN long after merchantmen first cleaved the 
waters of the Mediterranean before pirates started to dog their 
tracks. "Strangers, who are you?" asks the Cyclops of Odysseus and 
his men, "Do you wander about as traders or risking your necks 
as pirates?" In the age Homer was describing, piracy was a profes- 
sion that energetic and adventuresome men entered as a respect- 
able way of making a living. 

The profession lost some of its respectability as the centuries 
passed but none of its attractions. It was so widespread that it 
actually affected the course of early Greek civilization: people 
moved their settlements away from the sea where they were a 
target for raids to points more inland, and surrounded them with 
protective walls. The Athenians at one time had to set up a naval 
base on the Adriatic solely to protect their shipping from free- 
booters. Loss to pirates was one of the risks that bankers, shippers, 
and shipowners always reckoned in when they drew up contracts 
or fixed prices. The pirate even gained a place for himself in 
literature. A standard scene in Greek comedy was the reunion of 
a long-lost child with its parents from whom pirates had snatched 

The Pirates of Cilicia 

it as an infant to sell into slavery. Eventually the pirate wound 
up as wildly romantic as the Arab sheikhs of the drugstore novels 
who gallop off into desert sunsets with fair captives across their 
saddlebows. Every reader of an ancient Greek novel knew that hero 
and heroine, once aboard ship, would somewhere along the way be 
carted off by a band of brigands, of whom some were bound to fall 
in love with the girl and one might even turn out to have the tra- 
ditional heart of gold. 

Roving cutthroats who operated for their own profit weren't the 
only pirate menace. Any number of states considered piracy a legi- 
timate form of maritime enterprise, and their flotillas were to be 
found ranging up and down the trade routes. When in 230 B.C. 
the Romans sent an embassy to Queen Teuta, who ruled the 
Illyrians of the Jugoslav coast, to complain about attacks on their 
shipping, she pointed out with wide-eyed innocence that Illyrian 
sovereigns never interfered with what their subjects did on the 
seas. (Eighteen centuries later Queen Elizabeth I put on more or 
less the same act about Hawkins and Drake.) Moreover, it was as 
hard in those days as later to distinguish between pirates and 
privateers. In an age that had no international law, about the only 
way a government could force an alien into compliance with a 
given obligation was by indiscriminate reprisal, and even the most 
respectable Greek states didn't think twice about sending off their 
captains to attack the unsuspecting and innocent fellow citizens of 
a recalcitrant foreigner. Some captains, especially when their pay 
was in arrears, would interpret their orders liberally and attack any 
likely looking prize they came upon. As far as the victim was con- 
cerned it made little difference whether a gang of freebooters 
boarded him for their own profit or the crew of an Athenian naval 
unit because of some alleged offense on the part of one of his com- 
patriots: he lost his vessel and cargo. Every now and then a state 
would use pirates as a temporary addition to its navy, thus throw- 
ing large-scale opportunities their way. Demetrius enlisted whole 
bands when he laid siege to Rhodes (p. 153), and Philip V quietly 
engaged the pirates of Crete to concentrate on Rhodian shipping 
(p. 167). Nineteen centuries later the Dutch and English were mak- 
ing the same sort of deals with Barbary corsairs. 

The ancient pirate, like his later brethren, chased and boarded 

2 oo The Ancient Mariners 

merchantmen. But his stock in trade was not that; it was slave 
running. An attack on the high seas was a hit-or-miss sort of thing: 
a pirate chief could never tell from the look of a merchantman 
plodding along whether it was carrying a load of invaluable spices 
or of cheap noisome goathides. But a swift swoop on any coastal 
town was bound to yield, even if the place was too poor for plun- 
der, a catch of human beings who could be held for ransom or sold 
for the going price on the nearest slave block. "Pirates came into 
our land at night," runs the inscription on a monument which the 
people of Amorgos set up shortly after 300 B.C., "and carried off 
young girls and women and other souls, slave and free, to the num- 
ber of thirty or more. They cut loose the boats in our harbor [no 
doubt to prevent pursuit] and, seizing Dorieus' boat, escaped on it 
with their captives and booty." Amorgos was a very small island, 
and the loss of even thirty people must have been a blow; luckily 
two brave and persuasive captives talked the pirate chief into hold- 
ing them as hostages the monument had been erected in their 
honor and sending the rest back. An inscription that the people 
of nearby Naxos set up at about the same time records a large- 
scale operation in which pirates seized no less than 280 people; 
they were all ransomed eventually, but it must have cut deeply into 
many a Naxian's savings. In attacks of this sort, if the alarm was 
given in time the populace scampered to safety or rounded up 
forces to drive the raiders off. It was not often that they captured 
any, for pirates, knowing what was in store for them, played it safe. 
There is a case on record of a Turkish corsair of the sixteenth cen- 
tury who, when caught, was roasted alive for three hours; it's very 
likely that ancient townspeople showed as little mercy to those 
who fell in their hands. When Caesar rounded up a gang (p. 203) 
he sentenced them to crucifixion, as nasty and lingering a death 
as any. 

Although no coastal town anywhere along the Mediterranean and 
no merchantman anywhere on it was safe from attack, there were 
certain areas which were particularly dangerous. The "Tyrrhen- 
ians" got a reputation for buccaneering very early in the game; 
the name was probably a catch-all for the various groups that 
operated in the Tyrrhenian Sea west of Italy, Etruscans, Italians, 
Sardinians, Greeks from South Italy. Dionysius I of Syracuse, that 

The Pirates of Cilicia 201 

able and inventive general and admiral (p. 125), managed to hold 
them down, but when he died they bounced back as strong as ever. 
The Illyrians of the Jugoslav coast were a particularly virulent 
breed, the only group who succeeded in making a contribution 
that outlived them: they designed a boat so light and fast the 
Liburnian that the Romans paid them the compliment of adopt- 
ing it as a standard naval unit (p. 213). The Illyrians had a field 
day in the Adriatic until Rome, between the two Punic wars, finally 
took some action; but since, in her usual fashion, she didn't fol- 
low up by establishing a permanent patrol in the area they were 
quickly back in business. They worked in large packs at their 
height they had a fleet of 220 ships and frequently hired out to 
the neighboring kings of Macedon, especially after the latter had 
lost their own naval power (p. 167). They met their end when 
they made the mistake of joining King Perseus in open war against 
Rome (p. 172). Farther to the east, the Cretans were notorious 
pirates as early as Homer's day (cf. p. 43). It was they who made 
the trip past Cape Malea, which every vessel plying between 
Greece and Italy had to round, touch and go for even well-armed 
ships, and for years they were the chief targets of Rhodes' patrols. 
But neither the Tyrrhenians nor the Illyrians nor the Cretans 
matched for size, organization, and destructiveness the group that 
played out the last, lurid act in Mediterranean freebooting, the 
pirates of Cilicia. 

Cilicia, on the southern coast of Asia Minor, is an area whose 
inland portion is a stretch of rugged mountains and whose shore 
line a serrated succession of precipitous headlands. This is a com- 
bination ideal for pirates: the trackless interior protects them from 
any attack by land forces against their back, and the coast offers 
a choice of lofty lookouts and well-hidden strongholds. Some time 
after the middle of the second century B.C., when Rome had de- 
feated the Seleucid Empire which bordered on Gilicia, and deliv- 
ered her telling blow against Rhodes (p. 183) who used to police 
the waters round about, this region became a spawning ground for 
a pirate movement that, within a half-century, managed to bring 
chaos into every corner of the Mediterranean. 

The pirates of Cilicia made their headquarters in a town called 
Coracesium, a miniature Gibraltar perched on a rock that dropped 

The Ancient Mariners 

a sheer five hundred or six hundred feet to the sea and was con- 
nected to the mainland by only a narrow isthmus. As word of their 
successes got about there flocked here not only the riffraff of every 
nation in the area but even men of means and family eager to add 
the spice of danger to their lives. Eventually they had enough 
crews and ships to reorganize themselves on naval lines: they 
formed flotillas commanded by commodores, even fleets under 
admirals; to Liburnians and hemiolias (p. 152), the standard craft 
of the profession, they added ships of the line, even triremes. When 
Mithridates VI of Asia Minor began his bloody and long-drawn- 
out revolt against Rome in 89 B.C., the Cilician pirates joined him 
and thereby put at his disposal the best fleet available at the time 
in the Mediterranean. They had an efficient system of intelligence: 
agents would fraternize with the crews of merchantmen along the 
quays or in the waterfront saloons, discover their destinations, and 
relay the information to headquarters. But attacks on shipping were 
just a sideline. Their specialty was slave running, and they raided 
the coasts with such ruthless efficiency that they actually depopu- 
lated certain areas. Numbers of cities were glad to get off by paying 
them protection money, and some entered into formal treaties per- 
mitting them access to their ports and markets. These brigands 
now supplied the bulk of the slaves sold at the great market on 
Delos, satisfying even the ever increasing demands of Roman plan- 
tation owners (p. 182). Eventually they opened a market of their 
own at Side, a convenient thirty-odd miles by water from their 
headquarters, which became second only to Delos. 

By the early part of the first century B.C. the pirates of Cilicia 
literally controlled the seas. The Rhodians had been forced to cut 
back their navy, the Seleucids had lost theirs to Rome, and Rome 
had given hers up. Very likely, when the pirates were first getting 
under way, rich Roman plantation owners who found their ser- 
vices so useful had gone about discouraging any talk of taking 
action against them. By now no aggregation of a few squadrons or 
even a standard-sized fleet was going to do the job: the pirates 
commanded over a thousand ships; their arsenals were stocked 
with weapons and supplies; and, in concert with other miscel- 
laneous packs, they were operating all over the Mediterranean 
one group even helped a Spanish rebel to capture from Rome some 
of the Balearics, far off in the west. 

The Pirates of Cilicia 203 

Shortly before 70 B.C. their activity reached a crescendo. Land- 
ings were made on the shores of Italy itself and noble Roman 
ladies, not remote provincials, were now carried off for ransom. One 
gang kidnaped the granddaughter of an admiral who had once 
led an anti-pirate campaign, and another hauled off two high- 
ranking Roman officials with their staffs. The Appian Way, Rome's 
chief highway, was no longer safe to travel on. A squadron broke 
into the harbor of Ostia and smashed a consul's flotilla at anchor. 
The Roman plantation owner was the ultimate purchaser of most 
of the captives the pirates put on the block, but that didn't deter 
them from taking particular enjoyment in biting the hand that fed 
them. For Roman citizens they had specially worked up an ancient 
version of walking the plank. When a captive, in the hope that it 
might help, declared that he was a Roman, the pirates would go 
through a carefully rehearsed act. First they pretended to be thor- 
oughly scared and humbly asked for pardon, then they solicitously 
dressed the victim in his toga (the mark of the Roman citizen) , 
assuring him that it was to keep them from making the same mis- 
take a second time, and then, when well out to sea, they threw over 
the ship's ladder and prodded him down with best wishes for a 
pleasant stroll home. On one occasion the jokes went the other 
way. A gang seized Julius Caesar when, as a young man, he was 
sailing from Rome to Rhodes to study law there, and made the 
mistake of not recognizing that their captive was something out of 
the ordinary although he gave them plenty of clues. When they set 
a ransom of twenty talents on his head Caesar genially pointed out 
that he was worth at least fifty. They accepted the revised figure 
with alacrity and willingly sent off some companions who bad been 
taken with him to collect the cash. While they were away Caesar 
treated these cutthroats as if they were a personal bodyguard: he 
would order them to keep quiet whenever he was ready for his 
siesta, commandeer an audience whenever he wanted to practise his 
oratory, and dress them down whenever he felt they failed to appre- 
ciate the finer points of his style and delivery. The pirates were 
amused no end by all this and made the slip of staying amused 
when Caesar good-humoredly promised that he would come back 
after his release and hang them all. The moment the ransom was 
paid he made his way to Miletus nearby, raised a fleet, returned, 
and did just what he had said he would: he had as many as he 

204 The Ancient Mariners 

could catch crucified. As a special favor for their rather decent 
treatment of him during his captivity, he allowed their throats to 
be slit before nailing them to the cross. 

In 69 B.C. things came to a head. A pirate fleet sacked Delos for 
a second time, ending once for all the island's commercial career 
(p. 188). The seas became practically closed to shipping. It was this 
that finally goaded Rome into action: the city fed on imported 
grain and the pirates had now hit it in its most sensitive spot, the 
belly. What ensued was one of the most remarkable operations in 
naval history. 

Actually there had been some paving of the way. Since 77 B.C. 
Roman armies had been slowly slogging through the mountains 
of the hinterland behind the pirates' coastal strongholds. But this 
was only setting the stage: the coup de grace had to be delivered on 
the sea. The man who planned and executed it was, as every school- 
boy who has been put through Cicero's speeches knows, Caesar's 
famous rival, Pompey the Great. 

In 67 B.C. when the pirate menace had become a national crisis, 
the people of Rome handed Pompey a blank check to cope with it. 
The whole shore line of the Mediterranean up to a point fifty 
miles inland, with all the resources therein, was turned over to 
him; he had the authority to requisition ships or men or money 
or whatever else he needed from any governor of any Roman 
province or from any king bound by allegiance to Rome. Pompey 
must have anticipated something like this, for the plan he put 
into action was too carefully thought out to have been made up 
on the spur of the moment. It was a masterpiece of strategy and it 
went off like clockwork. 

He had to have ships. He got them, as Romans had ever since 
the Second Punic War, by commandeering the forces of such allies 
as Rhodes, the Phoenician cities, Marseilles, and so on. But the key 
to Pompey's success was not his ships Roman admirals had gone 
after the Cilician pirates with powerful forces before and failed 
but the scale and thoroughness of his planning: his strategy left 
nothing to chance and it embraced the whole of the Mediterranean. 
He divided the shore line into thirteen sectors each with its own 
commander and fleet. The essence of his plan was cooperation: 
each fleet was to attack the pirate nests in its sector simultaneously 

The Pirates of Cilicia 205 

while Pompey, at the head of a mobile force of sixty vessels, swept 
from Gibraltar eastward, driving all before him either into the 
jaws of the forces on the shores or straight ahead into an ultimate 
cul-de-sac off Cilicia. 

Within forty days Pompey had cleaned up the west and was 
ready for those who had fled headlong before him to the home base. 
As he approached, first individual ships then whole packs started 
to surrender. When he drew his siege lines around Coracesium the 
last hard core gave up. It was a spectacular operation, brilliantly 
conceived and magnificently executed. In three months Pompey 
had accomplished what no power had been able to do for centuries. 
Except for a spasmodic outburst now or then, the age-old plague 
of the Mediterranean was ended for a long time to come. No doubt 
the job of keeping it that way got off with flying colors when Pom- 
pey, instead of butchering his captives and thereby building up a 
debt of hate, in a sociological experiment that seems startingly 
modern carefully selected those he judged capable of reforming and 
resettled them in towns in the interior where they could start a 
new life away from the temptations of the sea. 

Actually, Pompey did more than exterminate piracy. While he 
was about it he laid the foundation for a revival of the Roman 
navy, and provided the pattern for its organization. The squadrons 
he had activated were, in the next half-century, to grow into the 
fleets that fought in Rome's bloody civil wars and, when these had 
ended, to form the nucleus of the magnificent force that turned the 
Mediterranean into a Roman lake. 

the Waves 

ON 11 JANUARY 49 B.C. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and the 
fires of civil war blazed forth all over the Mediterranean. Not until 
two stormy decades had gone by were they stamped out, after tens 
of thousands of men had been killed and a thousand ships sent to 
the bottom. And the nation that had once abandoned its navy saw 
the last round of its bitter internal strife fought out on the sea in 
a battle which pitted against each other two of the largest fleets 
ever assembled in ancient history. 

When the curtain rose on the conflict in 49 B.C. Caesar held the 
west and Pompey the east with the ships and seamen that meant 
control of the water as well. Sea power, however, in those days had 
its limitations (cf. p. 102), and Caesar, gambling shrewdly on them, 
was able to ferry an army across the Adriatic through Pompey's 
blockade lines to Greece where he ultimately won complete vic- 
tory. He now inherited some two hundred ships, all his opponent 
had left, but the daggers of Brutus and Cassius prevented his ever 
using them. And, although his grandnephew Octavian or Augus- 
tus as he was later called in a series of daring moves gathered 
into his hands the power his great-uncle once held, the fleet slipped 

Rome Rules the Waves 207 

through his fingers. Through the quirks of Roman politics and the 
irony of fate most of it fell into the grasp of none other than Pom- 
pey's son, Sextus. He knew how to use it: he was as skillful a sea- 
man as he was a political gambler. 

By 42 B.C., a scant two years after Caesar's death, Sextus com- 
manded 130 ships and was ready to play his own hand. Almost 
immediately he got a windfall: Augustus and Mark Antony had 
joined forces to crush Brutus and Cassius who, in what was by now 
a tradition, had commandeered the ships of the east; after their 
defeat, the remnants of their fleet joined Sextus. Augustus was 
faced with the job of consolidating his rule in Italy with barely a 
vessel to his name while a wily and able opponent held the waters 
round about with a force of over two hundred. He sorely needed a 
navy and someone to head it; he created the one and found the 

In 38 B.C., by exacting huge contributions and digging deep into 
his own pockets, Augustus managed to muster a fleet of 370 ships, 
including units up to "sixes," the heaviest aggregation seen in over 
a century. He gave the command to his right-hand man Agrippa. 
Agrippa had already shown himself a skillful general; now he was 
to reveal equal gifts as an admiral, not only on the deck but at the 
planning table as well. He had a special base built just north of 
Naples, where he spent a winter putting the raw recruits Augustus 
handed him through a rigorous training. But there was still more 
to be done. Agrippa knew that he couldn't hope to win by ram- 
ming: his men, despite the winter's work, were still beginners as 
against Sextus' crack crews, and, with their heavy ships, didn't 
stand a chance of getting in a blow at the enemy's light fast craft 
There remained only boarding, but boarding Sextus' slippery units 
posed a problem almost as difficult Agrippa solved it by inventing 
a new weapon. His vessels were big enough to carry catapults. He 
mounted the arrow-shooting type (p. 147) but, instead of a shaft 
with the normal pointed head, he used one tipped with a grapnel 
and made fast at the other end to a length of line. It was a most 
ingenious device: not only did it have a much greater range than 
a hand-thrown grapnel, but it was far harder for the enemy to 
handle; to cut it away his axes had to bite through a stout pole in- 
stead of a slender rope. In September of 36 B.C., after several pre- 

The Ancient Mariners 

liminary clashes, the two grand fleets, totaling, it was reported, over 
six hundred ships, squared off near Naulochus on the north coast of 
Sicily. Both sides fought savagely; the battle was close, but the 
catapult-grapnel carried the day. 

After destroying Caesar's assassins in 4.2 B.C., Augustus and Antony 
had divided the world between them, the one taking Italy and the 
west, the other the east. A showdown between the two was inevit- 
able. Augustus had had to delay it until Sextus was out of the 
way. Now he was ready. The fight came in 31 B.C., and the final 
round was fought on the second of September. The site was Actium, 
just north of the western end of the Gulf of Corinth and not far 
from the spot where, fifteen centuries later, another historic naval 
engagement was to take place, the Battle of Lepanto. Antony com- 
manded, it was said, over five hundred ships. Like Augustus', it was 
a heavy fleet, reminiscent of the mighty aggregations that Demetrius 
and Ptolemy had led three hundred years earlier. Every size from 
trireme to "nine" was represented, and a great "ten" carried the 
flag. Agrippa had four hundred units equipped, as at Naulochus, 
with his new catapult-grapnels. Both sides had added to their ves- 
sels a sort of armor belt of squared timbers shod with iron as a 
protection against ramming. The engagement itself was anticli- 
mactic. Months before, Agrippa had seized bases from which his 
ships could intercept the grain freighters from Egypt that were 
supplying his enemies, and Antony found it harder and harder to 
feed the enormous masses of men in his army and crews. When his 
rowers took their places on the benches on September snd they were 
underfed, sick, and discouraged. Nor did it help matters that, just 
before they shoved off, the unusual order came down to keep the 
sails on board (cf. p. 97); it may have been part of some subtle 
tactical plan, but to the men it smelled of flight. When the lines 
locked in conflict, Antony didn't even wait for the finish: Cleo- 
patra's squadron of sixty ships hoisted sail to make a run for it 
and he ingloriously followed with forty more. A year later the 
lovers committed suicide, and for the first time in history the Medi- 
terranean, from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Dardanelles, was in 
the control of one man. Augustus had ushered in the great era of 
the Roman Empire on the sea; it was to last for the next two hun- 
dred and fifty years. 

Rome Rules the Waves 209 

Mastery of the Mediterranean was Augustus' first step. His next 
was just as important: to hold what he had won he created a com- 
plex, finely organized navy. And for two centuries thereafter his 
successors maintained and improved upon what he had founded. 

Following the trail blazed by Pompey in his whirlwind campaign 
against the pirates, Augustus divided the sea into sectors and ap- 
portioned them among two major and a number of minor fleets. 
On Misenum, the cape that stands at the seaward end of the north- 
ern arc of Naples' great bay, he erected a headquarters for his 
principal fleet: though its immediate job was the patrol of the 
waters westward, it had a general responsibility for all the waters 
both east and west. Here he maintained a force of some ten thou- 
sand men and fifty-odd ships of the larger types mostly triremes, 
some quadriremes and quinqueremes, and a "six" as flagship plus 
an appropriate number of smaller craft. Substations north along 
the Italian coast and on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia oppo- 
site served as convenient ports for patrols. The officer in charge, 
Prefect of the Misene Fleet as he was termed, became one of the 
more important government officials in the Roman state. His area 
of command was so widespread and complex that the bulk of his 
work was administrative, and most of those chosen were political 
career men who, attaining the post after a lifetime of public service, 
were far more at home in an office than on the deck of a ship. 
Pliny the Elder, who was Prefect of the Misene Fleet in A.D. 79, 
the year Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii under a rain of volcanic 
ash, was typical. He had previously served in the army as an of- 
ficer, studied law, spent some years in practice, and put in a term 
as governor of the province of Spain. Though a conscientious ad- 
ministrator, his ruling passion was not his various offices certainly 
not the navy but the collecting of material for his famous ency- 
clopedia. When Vesuvius began its fateful eruption he ordered the 
ships out, primarily to get him near enough for a good look at the 
unique spectacle and, as an afterthought, to pick up survivors. 
Whatever rescues there were took place without him because, in 
his eagerness, he pressed in too dose and lost his life. 

A second major fleet, also made up chiefly of triremes, was located 
at Ravenna far up the Adriatic. Its task was to patrol the Jugoslav 
coast opposite, whose pirates had given so much trouble in earlier 

S io The Ancient Mariners 

days (p. 201). It was less important than the fleet at Misenum and 
its prefect subordinate in rank. When required, its units co- 
operated with those of the other. 

The basic importance of these two squadrons was their very 
existence: so long as they stood by in watchful readiness no poten- 
tial rival had a chance to build up and launch a force that could 
match them. When the need arose, they ferried army units from 
place to place, and at all times performed such useful functions as 
transporting important personnel and carrying dispatches. In addi- 
tion to all this were two duties only remotely related to the sea. To 
satisfy the Roman appetite for public spectacles Augustus and his 
successors varied the regular fare of gladiatorial combats and horse 
races by occasionally staging mock sea battles. They had artificial 
lakes dug out, surrounded them with seats sometimes they just 
flooded regular amphitheaters and staged on them full-scale sea 
battles: the crews were condemned criminals and the fighting was 
to the death. It was the job of the sailors of the fleet to see to it that 
lake, ships, supplies, and the like were all in proper order. A second 
responsibility assigned them was the handling of the huge awnings 
that were spread over the seating expanse of arenas to shield the 
spectators from the sun; sailors were a natural choice for this work 
since they were the most knowledgeable in the technique of dealing 
with canvas and ropes. Special detachments from Misenum and 
Ravenna were at times stationed at Rome just for these extracur- 
ricular chores. 

Augustus was fully aware that policing the Mediterranean meant 
more than holding a powerful naval force at the ready. It also 
meant running down sporadic pirates, patrolling harbor traffic, and 
ensuring quick communications between ports, duties for which the 
two major fleets were too far away and their units too heavy. So 
he began the building up of small provincial squadrons, located 
at strategic points like Alexandria (PL na) and Seleuceia, and 
equipped wholly with light fast craft. His successors followed his 
lead and, by the end of the first century A.D., such groups were 
stationed not only in the Mediterranean but wherever Rome had 
shipping to protect: in the Black Sea, on the Danube, near the 
mouth of the Rhine, by the English Channel. 

Rome Rules the Waves 211 

The sailors and marines who manned the fleets were not Romans. 
They were Greeks, Phoenicians, Syrians, Egyptians, Slavs mem- 
bers of those races who for centuries had gone down to seas or 
rivers in ships. They entered the service generally between the ages 
of eighteen and twenty-three, signed up for a hitch that was no less 
than twenty-six years in length and, if they lasted, were rewarded 
at discharge with Roman citizenship. When Augustus was desper- 
ately trying to build up a naval force to combat Sextus he enlisted 
slaves but he made certain to free them before sitting them on 
the benches; there were no slaves then or thereafter in the Roman 
navy. On shipboard things were run as they had been in the Hel- 
lenistic navies, for most of the officers were Greeks who naturally 
tended to follow the traditions they had been brought up in, and 
the Romans for their part had little to add. Generally officers came 
up from the ranks: a man could work through the various grades 
to captain of a warship (trierarchus) or even leader of a squadron 
(navarchus). This last position was usually the end of the road in- 
asmuch as the top ranks, certainly the prefectures of the fleets, were 
open most of the time only to Roman citizens. 

We know the sailors of the Roman navy more intimately than 
those of its predecessors. For one, archaeologists have excavated then- 
graveyards around Misenum and Ravenna and read the inscriptions 
on their tombstones; from these we learn the countries they came 
from, their average span of service, a bit about their careers, and so 
on. For another, a good many came from Egypt; like servicemen in 
all times and places they wrote home frequently, and excavators 
have recovered a few of their letters from Egypt's dry sands (cf. p. 
46). These are unique documents, for they provide what is so rare 
in ancient history, the warm light of personal experience. 

The Roman army was the service with the long, honorable tradi- 
tion. Since the navy was a newcomer and drew mostly upon for- 
eigners for its personnel, it was a reluctant second choice for most 
boys. "God willing," wrote a young recruit who, around the begin- 
ning of the second century A.D., was a marine on a destroyer at- 
tached to the provincial fleet stationed at Alexandria, "I hope to be 
transferred to the army; but nothing will be done around here 
without money, and letters of recommendation will be no good un- 
less a man helps himself." The boy was especially bitter because 

212 The Ancient Mariners 

his father was a soldier who had served out his time and received an 
honorable discharge. In any event the story has a happy ending, for 
a later letter reveals that he finally got what he wanted. 

But other letters show that some boys were well satisfied with the 
navy. There is a particularly engaging one from a young boot, 
Apion, who, sometime in the second century A.D., had left his little 
village in Egypt, been shipped to Italy, and there received word that 
he was assigned to the fleet at Misenum. He writes to his father full 
of enthusiasm: 


First of all, I hope you are well and will always be well, and my sister 
and her daughter and my brother. I thank the God Serapis that when I 
was in danger on the sea he quickly came to the rescue. When I arrived 
at Misenum I received from the government three gold pieces for my 
traveling expenses. I'm fine. Please -write me, Father, first to tell me that 
you are well, second that my sister and brother are well, and third so 
that I can kiss your hand because you gave me a good education and 
because of it I hope to get quick promotion if the gods are willing. Love 
to Capiton and my brother and sister and Serenilla and my friends. I've 
given Euctemon a picture of myself to bring to you. My name is Antonius 
Maximus, my ship the Athenonice. Goodbye. 

P.S. Serenus, Agathodaemon's son, sends regards, and so does Turbo, 
Gallonius* son. 

Apion was fortunate: he had met a number of boys from his 
home town; he had been given duty on a ship in the finest fleet; 
he saw perhaps a bit overoptimistically a chance of getting 
ahead. Like any young recruit in any age, he hungers for news 
from home and sends the family a picture of himself, undoubtedly 
showing him in his new uniform. In these pre-camera days it had 
to be a miniature, and in these pre-postal service days he must find 
someone heading for his home town to deliver it. Now that Apion 
is in the Roman navy he drops his Egyptian name for a good 
Roman one. We don't know whether his rosy vision of quick pro- 
motion ever came to pass but we do know that he prospered in 
other ways. A letter he wrote a number of years later is also pre- 
served: Apion now uses only his Roman name; he had married a 
girl he met around the base, and he has three children, a boy and 
two girls. 

Rome Rules the Waves 213 

The story revealed by this and similar letters is typical. All over 
the Mediterranean youngsters left their little villages, went over- 
seas to Misenum or Ravenna, and there they settled down, mar- 
ried, raised families, and were buried. The process of recruiting had 
to be kept up continually, for the children of these men did not 
often follow in their footsteps. If they could, they went into the 
army or some other more attractive way of life. 

Augustus and the emperors who came after him were proud of 
the navy that kept the seas safe for them. They stamped pictures of 
its ships on the coins they minted or had them carved on the monu- 
ments they set up and thereby provided for posterity a fairly 
good idea of what Roman men-of-war looked like (PL 10; cf. Pis. 
11 a, isc) . The most striking thing about these representations 
is that, from the ram on the prow to the ornament on the stern, 
they reveal nothing, aside possibly from some details, that was not 
known in earlier days: the triremes, quadriremes, quinqueremes, 
and occasional "sixes" in the slips of Misenum and Ravenna were 
little different from those that fought in the great Hellenistic 
fleets; in a navy that had been built about a nucleus of ships from 
the eastern Mediterranean and that, throughout its history, was com- 
manded by Greek officers, it could hardly be otherwise. Some of 
the galleys pictured carry the artemon (PI. 10) but this, though 
appearing now for the first time, was quite possibly invented in 
the Hellenistic age (p. 174). The stempost ends in a big volute 
(PL loa) and aft there is a curved wickerwork shelter for the cap- 
tain or important passengers (Pis. lob, igc) ; these may have been 
Roman additions. Possibly the heavier units were protected against 
ramming by belts of timber shod with iron as those at Actium had 

One new type of warship does appear in the Roman navy, the 
Liburnian (Pis. lob, na). It was a destroyer, a light, fast, highly 
maneuverable vessel, ideal for pursuit of pirates or for quick com- 
munications. A pirate tribe from the Jugoslav coast had invented it, 
and the Romans found it useful enough to adopt as a standard 
unit, particularly for the provincial fleets which used such craft 
almost exclusively (PL na). Originally it was most probably 
single-banked, but its borrowers developed a heavier version driven 

214 The Ancient Mariners 

by two banks of oarsmen. It must have served the purposes that the 
triemiolia had for the Rhodians (p. 152). Though the latter was 
available for adoption, Roman admirals preferred the Liburnian. 
Its two banks were easier to handle than the three of the other and 
possibly its rig was too; its mast and sail, for example, perhaps 
could be lowered under way for a fight without disturbing the 
rowers. The Liburnian became so popular in the Roman navy that 
the term eventually came to mean warship in general. 

A Roman man-of-war was given a name but it was not inscribed 
on the hull as today. Instead an illustrative carving was set on the 
bows, for example, a relief of a god if the ship was called after one 
(PL loa) . As it happens, many were, with an understandable 
preference for deities of the sea like Neptune, Nereis, Triton, or 
for such sailors' favorites as Isis and Castor and Pollux. A number 
of ships bore geographical names, and here there was a tendency, 
natural enough, to go in for rivers; at one time or another all the 
great rivers of the ancient world, the Tigris, Euphrates, Nile, and 
Danube, were represented in the fleets. But quite a few were named 
after abstract qualities, and the fact that it was a peacetime navy 
seems reflected in the choice: names such as Triumphus or Victoria 
are rare; the christeners preferred Concordia^ lustitia, Libertas, Pax, 
Pietas, and the like. 

The Roman navy, as mentioned earlier, was not maintained to 
fight enemy fleets; one of its key duties was to guard the trade 
routes. During the two hundred years after the birth of Christ these 
were traversed by the mightiest merchant marine the Mediter- 
ranean had ever seen or was to see for over a dozen centuries. The 
various types of craft that made it up are the best known of the 
ancient world, for even more representations of them are extant 
than of the contemporary men-of-war (Pis. gb, lib, 12-14). Sailors 
liked to have portrayed on their tombs the ship they had worked 
on, shippers had a weakness for having theirs decorated with pic- 
tures of the vessel they owned coming safely into harbor, and 
Roman emperors would issue coins stamped with a boat or a 
harbor scene to commemorate acts of theirs that had benefited 
commerce. After a gap of five centuries we can again see what mer- 
chantmen looked like, observe the form and fittings of their hulls, 
make out the details of their rigging, even watch them in action. 

Rome Rules the Waves 215 

Some of the features of the ships so pictured appear for the first 
time, but this doesn't prove that they were innovations, and cer- 
tainly not that the Romans had a hand in them. Though Rome 
now ruled the Mediterranean world, the people who handled its 
commerce were still Greeks and Phoenicians and Syrians and others 
who had made their living this way for centuries. The ships they 
used were, in all likelihood, basically the same as their fathers had; 
seamen by and large are a conservative lot. Whatever looks new 
may have been invented any time before, and most of it probably 
goes back to Hellenistic times when marine architects were called 
upon to meet the needs of a great expansion of trade (p. 174). 

One thing is clear: there were many more big merchantmen 
afloat now than ever before. The freighters that carried official 
government cargoes were commonly 340 tons' burden, and those 
of Rome's crack grain fleet (pp. 235-36) ran to 1,200 tons; seven- 
teen centuries were to pass before merchant fleets of such tonnage 
again sailed the seas. Circumstances occasionally called for even 
greater ships. The best examples are the leviathans that were spe- 
cially built to haul from Egypt the enormous obelisks the Romans 
had a penchant for setting up as monuments in their capital. The 
shaft now in front of St. Peter's stands about 130 feet high and 
weighs, together with its pedestal, just under five hundred tons; the 
Emperor Caligula had it brought over about A.D. 40 and the vessel 
he constructed to carry it was ballasted with eight hundred tons of 
lentils a total load of 1,300 tons. When Pope Sixtus V's architect, 
Domenico Fontana, in 1585 moved the obelisk from its orginal 
location in Nero's circus to where it now stands, he used 800 men, 
140 horses, and 40 rollers, and the whole contemporary world broke 
into applause at the feat. But Caligula's seamen and engineers had 
taken the monument from Heliopolis near Cairo, barged it down 
the Nile, loaded it on its ship, sailed it successfully across the Medi- 
terranean, transferred it again to a barge to get it up the Tiber, 
and re-erected it at the point where Fontana found it. 

Mediterranean merchantmen had always carried a handful of 
oars for emergency or auxiliary work. In the pictures of this age 
merchant galleys now make their appearance, freighters specifically 
designed to be driven by sail and rowers together (PL gb) . They 
unquestionably go back to earlier times; the horse transports that 

216 The Ancient Mariners 

formed part of the Athenian fleets (p. 102) were in effect the same 
sort of ship. Most were small, for plying between nearby coastal 
points, but many were of fair size, particularly useful for longer 
voyages where foul winds were to be encountered or when speed 
was essential. There must have been a good many such engaged in 
the transport from Africa and Asia of the wild animals that were in 
continual demand at Rome for the gladiatorial games; the trip 
was hard on the beasts and had to be made as rapidly as possible. 
Those that were light and fast enough could, when the occasion 
called, be pressed into service with the navy. 

Back in the second millennium B.C. Minoan shipwrights had de- 
signed a hull for their sailing vessels that was well rounded and 
had stem and stern posts which curved upward in graceful arcs 
(p. 25; PL ic, e). And, since the ancient mariner was as resistant 
to change as his later brethren, it remained the commonest type in 
the Mediterranean throughout ancient times (Pis. nb, 12-14). 
A variant was also in existence, one in which the prow curves in- 
ward, as on a fighting galley, and ends in a projecting forefoot 
(Pis. gb, nb, isa, isa) . It is at least as old as the other, for it 
occurs on some representations of skiffs found in Minoan sites. 
Now it appears, and very frequently, not only on skiffs and similar 
small craft but on large-sized merchantmen as well. The forefoot 
often extends far enough to look for all the world like a ram, yet 
to explain it as such makes no sense, since a ram has no place 
either on a heavy freighter, powered only by sail, or on a tiny row- 
boat. Possibly the design was in tended .for areas where there were 
few quays and a skipper would often have to drive his ship right 
up on the beach; a projecting forefoot would act as a buffer and 
protect the stem and keel from damage. The shape clearly was 
useful, for a version of it was still to be seen a dozen centuries later 
in the waters about Java. 

From contemporary writings, especially Pliny the Elder's volum- 
inous encyclopedia (p. 209), and from the pictures, a good deal is 
known about how merchantmen were built and handled. For 
safety as well as for increased cargo capacity they were made fairly 
beamy: a length to beam ratio of four to one was common and 
some, like the one found off Mahdia (pp. 190, 195), ran even wider. 
Freighters of any appreciable size had a cabin aft (Pis. 12, iga) , but 

Rome Rules the Waves 217 

it was big enough to house only the skipper and mates. Passengers 
lived and slept on deck, no hardship in the mild Mediterranean 
climate and unquestionably pleasanter than a stuffy berth below; 
when they wanted privacy they set up little tent-like shelters. Water 
was carried in tanks in the hold, and the food available included 
porridge and meat, cooked on a fire in a carefully protected hearth. 
Behind the cabin rose the sternpost, which was almost always car- 
ried up high, brought downward in a graceful curve, and finished 
off with the figure of a goose-head, a sharp contrast to the stem, 
which was left blunt and squarish (Pis. 12, i3a) . Sometimes the 
latter bore a relief illustrating the vessel's name; the one in Plate 
12 portrays Liber, the Roman god of wine, and very likely the L 
on the sail is his initial. On larger ships a gallery girdled the stern 
and occasionally another was put around the prow to protect the 
hands when working sail there (Pis. 12, 13, i4a) . Shipwrights used 
pine or fir or cedar, depending on what was available, for the 
planks of the hull; for the keel they preferred pine and, for the 
false keel, oak to withstand the wear and tear of hauling out. The 
builders of Caligula's barges limited themselves to species of pine 
and fir and oak which were available in Italy. Inside, practically 
any wood was used: oak, pine, plane, ash, elm, while for oars and 
spars the favorite was fir because of its light weight, although pine 
was acceptable. Yards were sometimes made of two saplings fished 
together just as the Egyptians had done centuries earlier (p. 16). 
Sailmakers worked chiefly with linen, and riggers with ropes of 
flax, hemp, twisted papyrus or, on occasion, strips of leather. Sand 
was the commonest form of ballast, but anything conveniently 
heavy could be used: rocks, old building blocks, even discarded in- 
scribed stone slabs; divers found a number of these in the wreck 
off Mahdia (p. 190). A hull whose planks were joined to each 
other like those of Caligula's barges or of the wreck near Albenga 
(p. 195) would need little caulking; on ships not so carefully con- 
structed caulkers filled the seams with tow, then worked in pitch 
and then smeared the whole hull with pitch. Often they sheathed 
the underwater surface with sheet lead, placing a layer of tarred 
fabric between it and the wood; on Caligula's barges the whole 
outside of the hull was covered first with a woolen fabric im- 
pregnated with tar and then with sheet lead. Ship's paint was en- 

The Ancient Mariners 

caustic, that is, wax heated until it was soft enough to be mixed 
with coloring matter and applied with a brush. A number of colors 
were available: purple, blue, white, yellow, green, and a shade that 
matched sea water which reconnaissance vessels and pirate ships 
used as a sort of camouflage. One colored mosaic of a good-sized 
freighter shows that the Mediterranean penchant for gaily colored 
vessels has ancient roots: the hull is done in bands of red and dark 
blue, the stern gallery, trim, and steering oars in yellow, and the 
stern ornament is gilded. 

The pictures of this age are absolutely invaluable when it comes 
to rigging: they portray not only the types in vogue but individual 
features as well. The standard rig is still the squaresail. Most ships 
carry an artemon (p. 146) also, and larger ones show, above the 
main, a topsail, the only superimposed sail found in the ancient 
world; it was a triangular piece of canvas that had its base spread 
along the upper surface of the yard and its apex hauled up to the 
truck of the mast (Pis. 12, 14.3.) . The biggest freighters were 
rigged with all these sails and a mizzen as well (PL nb) . A relief 
carved on a stone plaque that was found in the port of Rome illus- 
trates in detail the complicated tackle that a seagoing sailing 
vessel carried (PL 12) . Projecting over the bows is the artemon 
mast. An extremely heavy forestay running from mast truck to the 
bow and an elaborate cluster of shrouds, with tackles for adjust- 
ment, steady the mast. The mainsail, broader than it is high, is 
made up of square or rectangular patches sewn together and pro- 
tected along the edges by bolt ropes; figured on it is a picture of 
the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders 
of Rome. A dozen brails (p. 38) for shortening sail run from the 
foot through fair-leads to the head and then, probably rove through 
blocks on the yard, are brought down to the deck. Above the main 
is the topsail, split in the middle to allow the forestay to pass 
through. The huge steering oar hangs in a rope strap and, socketed 
to the handle at right angles to the blade, is a long tiller which the 
helmsman pulls toward him or pushes away to twist the blade in 
the water and thereby direct the course. Two vessels are shown. 
In the left-hand side of the plaque, one has just entered port: sail 
is beginning to be shortened; the ship's boat, which had been in 
tow at the end of a long line, is being brought up to the vessel's 


The Standard Ancient Shipping Container: The Clay Jar 
a. Amphorae from a wreck, dating around the end of the first century B.C. 
or the beginning of the first A.D., on the sea floor near the lie du Levant 
off Hveres on the French Riviera. 

b. A Roman merchantman traveling under sails and oars with a full deck- 
load of amphorae. Second or third century A.D. 

Roman Warships 

a. One of the heavy ships that fought in the Battle of Actium, 32 B.C. 
The vessel has two banks of oars, each oar manned by multiple rowers. 

b. Two-banked Liburnians under oars and a trireme under oars and the 
artemon. Ca. A.D. 106. 


Roman Warships and Merchantmen 

a. Two-banked galley on the Nile, most likely a Liburnian attached to the 
fleet stationed at Alexandria. First century B.C. or first A.D. 

b. Mosaic on the floor outside the office maintained at Ostia by the 
Shippers of Sullecthum ([Navic]ulari Syllecti[ni]), a town on the Tuni- 
sian coast. Second to third century A.D. 







Merchantmen and Warships of the Roman Empire 

a. Three merchantmen at the entrance to the harbor of Portus. Third 
century A.D. 

b. Detail of the above showing 
the sprit. 

c. Roman warships, probably Liburnians, racing across the waters o a 
harbor. First century A.D. 


Merchantmen of the Roman Empire 
a. Model of a large merchantman. 

b. Small freighter, probably the type used to carry grain from Portus or 
Ostia to the docks on the Tiber. The vessel may have been sprit-rigged. 
Second or third century A.D. 


Small Craft of the Roman Empire 

a. A shipwright at work. The inscrip- 
tion means, "Longidienus pushes 
ahead on his work." 

b. Skiff in the act of warping a vessel 
into harbor; note the towing line 
running from the stern upward 
and off to the left. With the mast 
set so far up in the bows the boat 
must have carried some form of 
fore-and-aft rig, probably a sprit. 

C, Boat rigged with a short-luffed lug. 

d. Vessel traveling "wing and wing" 
under two spritsails. 


The Byzantine Age 
a. Model o a dromon of the tenth century A.D. 

b. Ship of the fleet of Emperor Michael II (A.D. 820-829) destroying an 
enemy with "Greek fire." 

\ ^ x ' f, f ' "I 1 * 

' ' 

* ^ < ' / '/ ' x. -' i 

i - l?wr> ^o^^/^^T^^K^'T^^^^^T^ 

~* ' ' \ * / f * < 


Rome Rules the Waves 

side; the landing plank has been made fast to the artemon halyard 
and a hand is standing by ready for the order to lower away; and 
the captain with his family cluster about an altar set up on the poop 
to offer sacrifice in thanks for a safe return. In the right-hand side, 
a sister ship has already made fast to the quay and is in the process 
of discharging; the topmen have gone aloft to secure the sails. The 
cargo was packed in clay jars most likely it was wine and a 
stevedore is shown walking off the quay bent under the weight of 
one balanced on his shoulder. 

It has always been assumed that the square rig was the only type 
the ancient mariner used. But very recently a number of tombstones 
that had been hiding in dark corners of European museums were 
brought into the light and these reveal that he not only knew the 
fore-and-aft rig but at least two versions of it. One is the short- 
luffed lug (PL i5c), a sail so close to the lateen that there is 
good reason to think the ancients knew this one too, even though 
no examples have been found as yet. The other is the sprit (Pis. 
i5d; cf. i4b, i5b) , a rig so much at home in northern waters 
that finding it in the Mediterranean came as a considerable sur- 
prise; it was always thought to be a Dutch invention that went no 
farther back in time than the fifteenth century. The sprit-rigged 
craft that appear on these tombstones are for the most part small, 
fishing smacks or the like, but there is a carving, done sometime in 
the third century A.D., on the side of a sarcophagus, a stone coffin, 
that shows one which is much bigger (PL iga, b) . Three ships are 
portrayed, neatly illustrating different types afloat at the time. The 
two on the outside are square-rigged; the one on the left has the 
traditional round hull, while that on the right has the bow with 
projecting forefoot. The one in the center is round-hulled and the 
same size as the others, but it carries a sprit-rig. The mast is stepped 
far up in the bows and the sail made fast to it by the luff, very 
loosely, as was the Dutch practice occasionally centuries later. The 
sprit, a long spar running diagonally across the windward side of 
the sail, supports the peak, and a double-ended vang made fast to 
its upper end permits trimming of the peak; no vertical brails are 
visible since they have no place in such a rig. The square-rig of 
the vessels on either side, with the mast stepped amidships and the 
prominent vertical brails, forms a sharp contrast. 

220 The Ancient Mariners 

Thus the skipper of a merchantman in this age had under his 
command a well-built, tight, well-rigged vessel. He had charts to 
plot courses on and "coast pilots" to guide him when he neared 
land. He carried a lead line to test depths, and the lead had a cup 
for tallow so that he could bring up samples of the bottom. He 
sent messages to other ships or the shore with semaphore flags. He 
had a ship's boat for emergencies and for use in harbor; if his vessel 
was large enough he could hoist it aboard; but usually, as large 
sailing ships did until just a few centuries ago, he towed it with a 
hand stationed aboard at all times (PL 12) it provided the best 
chance of making a rescue if any of the crew fell overboard. The 
one thing he did not have was a compass; but in the Mediterranean, 
where distances over open water are never too great and where 
visibility is exceptionally good, this lack was not as serious as it 
might have been elsewhere. The reason the ancient mariner lim- 
ited himself to a sailing season that ran from April to November 
(p. 39) was less the fact that winter brought storms in later 
times Venetian galleys, for example, operated all year round than 
that it brought frequent cloudy weather which, obscuring sun and 
stars and landmarks, made voyaging without some device to give 
direction hazardous. 

The merchantmen of this age carried less canvas than they could 
have and they carried it low; this made them slow but at the same 
time safe. When the breeze was favorable they could average be- 
tween four and six knots, when foul little more than two since their 
square rig could get no closer than seven points off the wind; those 
that were sprit-rigged, of course, could do considerably better. The 
carving on the sarcophagus mentioned above (PL i$a) shows 
particularly well the ancient skipper's skill in sailing against the 
wind. It is remarkable for being the earliest detailed representa- 
tion in existence of a crisis at sea. The coffin held the remains of 
a boy or man who had drowned, and the coffin maker decorated 
it with the dramatic story of how he met his end. The scene is the 
mouth of the harbor of Rome. Here, on a windy day when the 
waves were running high, the boy had fallen out of a tiny skiff in 
which he had been rowing, perhaps in the very sight of his par- 
ents standing at the end of a mole. Two vessels race to the rescue 
from inside the port, one slightly ahead of the other. At the criti- 

Rome Rules the Waves 


cal moment the one in the lead finds itself in imminent peril of 
colliding with a ship heading into the harbor. It is this moment 
that the artist chose to portray, and he left enough dues for us to 
work out precisely what happened. The two rescue ships, facing 
right, are traveling with the wind on the port quarter. The one 
entering is on a starboard tack. Clearly there is a strong wind 
blowing, for the square-riggers have shortened sail by taking up 
on the brails, and the sprit-rigger by tricing up the tack of the 
mainsail. The latter, though in the lead, suddenly finding itself in 

Fig. 6. Reconstruction of the sailing maneuvers pictured in Plate iga. 

danger has had to give up all thought of rescue. The one behind 
has taken over that task, and one of the crew is leaning anxiously 
over the bow ready to reach out a hand to the boy in the water. 
Apparently he isn't aware of help from this quarter: his attention 
is riveted despairingly on the ship nearest him which, confronted 
by its own peril, can no longer bother with him. The two vessels 
in the collision zone are maneuvering swiftly to avoid disaster. 
Both have excellent skippers; they are doing precisely what is called 
for. On the square-rigger the skipper has backed the mainsail. This 
will slow his forward motion. The artemon is still drawing, which 
will throw his bow to port and carry him past on the outside of the 
other ship (Fig. 6) . Very likely he wants the artemon trimmed, but 
he is getting somewhat less than perfect cooperation: his hand for- 
ward has given up in fright, rushed amidships, and settled down to 
pray. On the other vessel the skipper is working to swing his bow 
to port and pass on the inside. This will bring him from a broad to 

222 The Ancient Mariners 

a close reach, and his hands accordingly are busy trimming sail: the 
one aft has grabbed the leech to get the sail inboard in a hurry. 
Another minute will tell the story. We know the rescue attempt was 
unsuccessful; let us hope that at least the collision was avoided. 

The nation that had entered the First Punic War with a squad- 
ron of twenty vessels had come a long long way. The triremes and 
Liburnians of its fleets ringed the Mediterranean and the multi- 
farious craft of its merchant marine thronged its waters. The one 
guarded, and the other carried, a far-flung and intensely active 
commerce but that is a story that needs a chapter for itself. 



Lead to Rome 

"I BUILT MYSELF five ships, loaded them with wine which was 
worth its weight in gold at the time and sent them to Rome. 
Every single one of them was wrecked, that's the god's honest truth; 
Neptune gulped down a cool thirty million in one day. I built my- 
self some more, got another cargo of wine, added bacon, beans, a 
load of slaves . . . the little woman sold all her jewels to raise the 
cash. I netted a cool ten million on that one voyage/' The speaker 
is Trimalchio, Petronius' famous character, the ex-slave who be- 
came a multimillionaire. Petronius is, of course, exaggerating for 
literary effect but not too much. There was a fortune to be made 
in maritime commerce in Roman times. Marcus Porcius, a wealthy 
wine shipper who worked out of Pompeii, made enough money to 
contribute half the cost of building for his town a public theater 
large enough to seat fifteen hundred people. Sextius Fadius Musa, 
who exported wine out of what is now Burgundy, set up a rich 
trust fund, the annual proceeds of which were to go for a big 
blowout to be celebrated on his birthday forever; archaeologists 
have found hundreds of wine jars stamped with his name in France 
and Italy, testifying to his wide-flung activities. Businessmen like 

224 The Ancient Mariners 

these were to be found from Spain to Syria, thousands of them. 
Augustus had launched and his successors maintained two cen- 
turies of peace; in this favorable climate commerce grew like a 
weed, outstripping in extent, volume, and velocity anything that 
had gone on before. It was more than just the total of what the 
Hellenistic world had carried on earlier in the east and of what 
Carthage had in the west. Its greatest component was something 
which, growing steadily since the middle of the second century 
B.C., now reached full maturity: filling the needs of the one million 
souls who lived in the city of Rome. 

The Roman man in the street ate bread baked with wheat grown 
in North Africa or Egypt, and fish that had been caught and dried 
near Gibraltar. He cooked with north African oil in pots and pans 
of copper mined in Spain, ate off dishes fired in French kilns, drank 
wine from Spain or France and, if he spilled any of his dinner on 
his toga, had it cleaned with fuller's earth from the Aegean Islands. 
The Roman of wealth dressed in garments of wool from Miletus or 
linen from Egypt; his wife wore silks from China, adorned herself 
with diamonds and pearls from India, and made up with cosmetics 
from South Arabia. He seasoned his food with Indian pepper and 
sweetened it with Athenian honey, had it served in dishes of Spanish 
silver on tables of African citrus wood, and washed it down with 
Sicilian wine poured from decanters of Syrian glass. He lived in a 
house whose walls were covered with colored marble veneer quarried 
in Asia Minor; his furniture was of Indian ebony or teak inlaid with 
African ivory, and his rooms were filled with statues imported from 
Greece. Staples and luxuries, from as near as France and as far as 
China, poured into the capital, enough of the one to feed a million 
people, and of the other to satisfy the extravagances of the political, 
social, and economic rulers of the western world. 

Until the middle of the first century A.D., the bulk of this trade 
was channeled through Pozzuoli. It had a fine natural harbor 
capable of handling large ships, while the only port near Rome, 
Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber, had nothing better to offer than 
an open roadstead which was constantly being silted up by the 
mud the river carried down every year. This meant that all cargoes 
had to be transferred to smaller craft to be carried up the coast, a 
procedure involving trouble, delay, and expense. The Emperor 

All Routes Lead to Rome 225 

Claudius finally decided to do something about the matter and in 
A.D. 42 began to build in the marshy plains north of the Tiber's 
mouth a big, completely man-made harbor to which he gave the 
matter-of-fact name of Portus "the port." Two enormous curving 
moles, each 1,900 feet long and 180 wide, formed the arms, and 
they enclosed an anchorage of 130 acres. In the space between the 
seaward ends Claudius had a concrete island constructed; to serve 
as its foundation he ordered sunk in place the great ship that his 
predecessor had built a few years earlier to carry the Vatican 
obelisk to Rome (p. 215). The island, by narrowing the entrance 
to two slender channels, kept the waters inside calm in all weather. 
On it a lighthouse was set up which rose in four diminishing stages, 
three square topped by a round (see PL 12, which probably in 
the main represents Portus, and PI. i3a, which shows one of the 
entrance channels) ; it was modeled on the one at Alexandria and, 
like it, soon became famous enough to serve as a pattern for bea- 
cons elsewhere. A canal connected the new port with the Tiber. An 
incoming vessel either discharged its cargo onto barges which were 
drawn by oxen, trudging along a towpath, through the canal and 
up the Tiber to the great docks of the city, or transferred it to 
smaller craft which went around by sea the two miles to the mouth 
of the Tiber and then upriver (PL i4b) . But even the new harbor 
wasn't enough to handle Rome's ever increasing traffic; conse- 
quently, between A.D. 101 and 104, the Emperor Trajan dug out 
a hexagonal inner basin behind Claudius' port to add seventy-eight 
acres of additional anchorage, lined it on all sides with warehouses, 
and widened the canal that led to the Tiber. 

As a result of all this, Ostia boomed. Streets in the business sec- 
tion were lined with lofts and offices; in the residential area apart- 
ment houses rose up to take care of the burgeoning population. 
Members of the various trades and business enterprises in the time 
of the Roman Empire liked to band together in social dubs; the 
list of those at Ostia is practically an index to the activities of a 
busy port in any time or place. There were half a dozen for the 
different categories of boatmen: riverboatmen and bargemen to 
carry cargoes up the Tiber; ferrymen to transport passengers; tug- 
boatmen to man the stout skiffs that warped vessels into or out of 
the harbor (PL i$b) . There were clubs of shipwrights, caulkers, 

226 The Ancient Mariners 

riggers, "sandmen" (to handle the sand commonly used as ballast) , 
divers (to salvage goods dropped overboard) , stevedores, warehouse- 
men, watchmen. And, of course, dealers in grain, wine, oil, hides, 
and so on. Agents from the towns, big or small, that did business 
with Rome set up residence at Ostia. The colonnade behind the 
theater was ringed with their offices; by walking just a few steps 
along it a buyer could order ivory from the representatives of 
Sabratha in North Africa, oil from those of Carthage (refounded 
by Julius Caesar and now a flourishing export center) , grain from 
those of Narbonne (cf . PL i ib) . 

The vast flow of goods to Rome was the most notable phase of 
the commerce of the age but not the only one. Italy sold abroad 
pottery and metalware and quantities of wine (cf. p. 194) up to 
the end of the first century A.D. when her best customers, the prov- 
inces, began not only to produce for themselves but to export to 
their former supplier. In the second century she partially made up 
for this loss: marble had then become the popular material for 
public buildings and she shipped out large amounts from the fa- 
mous quarries at Carrara; off Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera 
sea diggers in 1951 fished up thirteen prefabricated column drums 
and bases and other architectural members, in all two hundred 
tons of Carrara marble, part of a shipment that was probably 
destined for a big temple in Narbonne some 160 miles farther west 
All of Rome's provinces traded with one another as well as with 
the capital. Spain sent garum, its famous expensive fish sauce, to 
France and its dried fish to Greece; colored marbles from Asia 
Minor went into buildings in North Africa; statuary from Athens' 
workshops adorned the houses of the well-to-do throughout the 
west; Egypt shipped its papyri in all directions. In the east, ports 
of long standing such as Ephesus and Miletus, which had been 
slowly dying in the confusion and confiscations of Rome's civil 
wars, came to life; in the west, along the coasts of North Africa 
and Spain, the construction of moles, quays, and warehouses gave 
once primitive harbors a new look. The Emperor Nero undertook 
no less a project than cutting a canal across the Isthmus of Corinth 
(cf. p. 80). It was one of his bravura gestures of generosity toward 
Greece, of help almost solely to her commerce because the major 
sea routes for the most part now bypassed her; as it happened, 

All Routes Lead to Rome 227 

political troubles made him give up the work and the isthmus re- 
mained uncut until 1893. 

Thus the commerce of the Roman Empire embraced hundreds 
of places and products, all of what had gone on in earlier ages plus 
all that was brought into being by the new world Rome created. 
Yet, within this far-flung and complex network two lines of trade 
stand out conspicuously above all others, one for the distances it 
spanned and the exotic nature of the products it dealt with, the 
other for the vast bulk of its shipments and the mighty organiza- 
tion it required: Rome's trade in the Indian Ocean, and the Alex- 
andria-Rome grain service. 

"The beautiful large ships of the Yavanas come bearing gold and 
making the water white with foam, and return laden with pepper." 
So wrote an Indian poet sometime in the second century A.D. 
"Drink," another suggested to his king, "the cool and fragrant 
wines brought by the Yavanas in their vessels." "Yavanas" were, 
strictly speaking, men from any part of the west but, on the tongue 
of an Indian of the time, it almost always meant the Greeks and 
Egyptians who ran the trade between the Mediterranean and India. 
Their ships lined the quays of Indian ports and their sailors 
haunted the waterfront dives. In the residential areas behind, their 
agents established little foreign quarters for themselves, anticipat- 
ing by a millennium and a half the employees of Britain's East 
India Company. 

Official embassies passed back and forth between East and West. 
India sent several during the reign of Augustus, one from Ceylon 
visited the Emperor Claudius, and they kept coming as late as the 
reign of Constantine the Great. Chinese records contain a long and 
rather flattering account of how people lived in Rome's eastern 
provinces based in part on the report of an ambassador who had 
gone to Mesopotamia in A.D. 97. (It has the surprising observation 
that the people there "are honest in their transactions and there 
are no double prices," something not often said about Near East- 
tern tradesmen.) One group of westerners made their way to the 
very borders of China, for the same account notes that in "the 
ninth year of the Yen-hsi period, during the Emperor Huan-ti's 
reign [A.D. 166] ... the King of Ta-ts'-in, An-tun, sent an embassy 

228 The Ancient Mariners 

which, from the frontier of Jih-nan [Annam], offered ivory, rhino- 
ceros horns and tortoise shell. From that time dates the intercourse 
with this country." Ta-ts'-in is the Chinese name for the Roman 
Empire, and An-tun is Antoninus, the family name of Marcus Au- 
relius. The account goes on to comment about the very ordinary 
gifts the embassy brought for the emperor; there were, for example, 
no jewels. Most likely it wasn't an official body at all but a group 
of shippers who, to get one jump ahead of their competitors, were 
trying to buy their silk directly from China instead of through mid- 

What came from India and Arabia in the days of the Ptolemies 
(p. 185) was a trickle compared with the flow that took place after 
Augustus brought peace to the Mediterranean world. As before, 
the ultimate consumer of most of it was the city of Rome. Pepper 
and other spices arrived in such quantities that the Emperor Ves- 
pasian sectioned off part of a colonnade in the heart of the city, the 
horrea piperaria, "pepper sheds," for the exclusive use of spice mer- 
chants; when Alaric the Goth in A.D. 408 agreed not to sack Rome, 
part of the price paid was three thousand pounds of pepper. Silks 
and jewelry poured in so profusely that there was concern about 
the drain on the city's financial resources. "The ladies and their 
baubles are transferring our money to foreigners," grumbled Em- 
peror Tiberius, and Pliny the Elder worried about how imports 
from Arabia, India, and China cost Rome 550,000,000 sesterces an- 

In Augustus* day 120 ships set out each year for India from Myos 
Hormos, "Mussel Harbor," on the Red Sea, six times as many as 
under the last Ptolemies, and there were two other ports in the 
same area that sent out fleets as well. Troops of archers were car- 
ried as guards against pirate attack, and a detachment of the Ro- 
man navy patrolled the Red Sea. The vessels sailed, as under the 
later Ptolemies, with the southwest monsoon almost astern to the 
mouth of the Indus River near Karachi (p. 185). A few decades 
later, a little after the middle of the first century A.D., skippers 
weren't afraid to bring the wind on the starboard quarter and, 
though it added five hundred miles on the open sea, to head for 
the southwest coast, the heart of the pepper country. Starting from 
Egypt in July, they made the fourteen hundred miles down the 

All Routes Lead to Rome 229 

Red Sea in thirty days, and the two thousand miles from there to 
the Malabar coast in another forty; about the beginning of De- 
cember they caught the northwest monsoon back. To help matters 
along, the Emperor Trajan once again had the old canal between 
the Nile and the Red Sea (p. 10) dredged out. 

The Rome-India run was the most remote trade route of the age, 
yet it is the one we know best. An anonymous merchant who 
operated a ship on it shortly after the middle of the first century 
B.C. compiled a Periplus Maris Erythraei, "Guidebook of the Ery- 
thraean Sea", that is, of the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the 
Persian Gulf. There must have been similar manuals covering 
every sea lane in the Roman Empire, but this is the only one that 
has survived. It was written both for skippers and for shippers: it 
was a "coast pilot" for the east shore of Africa as far south as Zan- 
zibar and the coasts of Arabia and India, and at the same time a 
merchant's guide to what could be bought and sold at each point 
along the way. It has no more literary merit than a United States 
Navy publication, and it is a scant twenty-five pages long, but it is 
a mine of priceless information. 

The author deals first with the African coast. On this leg, he re- 
ports, the important items a trader can pick up are tortoise shell, 
ivory, and incense, and they are to be had in exchange for cheap 
clothes, metals, and trinkets. He frequently warns against un- 
friendly natives; it's wise, he notes at one point, to take "a little 
wine and wheat, not for trade but to get the goodwill of the 

But the heart of the handbook is the trip to India, and for that 
the author returns to the starting bases of Myos Hormos and Bere- 
nice. First he describes the passage down the Red Sea and along 
the south shore of Arabia. The harbors are mostly poor and the 
coastal voyage along the south of Arabia is particularly dangerous. 
At one port on the Arabian shore of the Red Sea the trader still 
runs into reminders of the extent of Rome's power: an official 
backed by a garrison of soldiers levies a toll of not less than one- 
quarter of all merchandise brought in. At a town near the mouth 
of the sea is the first occurrence of that ubiquitous concomitant of 
trade in the East, bakshish: here "the Sheikh and his Chief are 
given horses, pack-mules, gold vessels, polished silver vessels, ex- 

2 go The Ancient Mariners 

pensive garments, and copper vessels/' The product par excellence 
of the area was, of course, myrrh, and the natives were chiefly in- 
terested in various types of textiles. After a very brief look at the 
Persian Gulf it was held by Rome's enemy, Parthia, and entering 
its ports was no doubt risky the author gets to India. 

He reaches it at the mouth of the Indus. Here was a market 
where fabrics and vessels of glass or gold or silver could be ex- 
changed for certain Indian spices and perfumes, semiprecious 
stones, muslin, and silk yarn. The place was obviously a terminus 
for transit trade because few of these products were local: the stones 
came from Afghanistan and Iran, and the silk all the way from 
China. Farther down the coast at Broach, two hundred miles north 
of Bombay, all these items were available plus other kinds of cot- 
ton cloth and some pepper; among the things the natives would 
take in return was "wine, Italian preferred." The bakshish here ran 
very high: "for the rajah there are brought . . . very expensive 
silver vessels, singing boys, beautiful maidens for the harem, fine 
wines, expensive fine-woven garments and the best ointments." 
Navigation along this coast from the Indus to Broach was tricky 
and the author describes the hazards with vivid detail. One of the 
worst was getting into the ports, particularly difficult because of 
rocks, sand bars, and the steep rise and fall of the tides. His bald 
businessman's style even takes on color as he tells of one harbor 
where "at the new moon the force of the sea as it surges in, es- 
pecially when the flood tide comes at night, is so powerful that if, 
taking advantage of slack tide, you have already started to enter, 
from the mouth of the river you first hear something that sounds 
like an army far off and, very soon after, the sea itself spills in over 
the shoals with a roar." Here the local rajah helped out by fur- 
nishing native fishermen as pilots. It was in part to avoid this 
stretch of coast that skippers who traded farther south brought the 
wind well on the starboard quarter as soon as they left the Red 
Sea and held to a course over the open water. 

Finally the author reaches the Malabar coast which, as the source 
of pepper and gems, was far and away the most important trading 
area. Here, in a port on the site of what is today Cranganore, the 
really big freighters were found, those that had made the voyage 
straight across the ocean. They came 

All Routes Lead to Rome 231 

because of the enormous quantities of pepper and malabathrum [a form 
of cinnamon]. The place imports first and foremost a great amount of 
coin; also topaz, a little fine-woven clothing, figured linens, antimony, 
coral, crude glass, copper, tin, lead, a little wine . . . , realgar and orpiment 
[red and yellow pigment respectively], and enough wheat for the ships' 
crews since the local merchants don't deal in it [they obviously handled 
only rice]. The place exports pepper, produced in quantity in only one 
place nearby, a district called Cottonara. It also exports good amounts 
of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth, spikenard from the Ganges, malabathrum 
from the places inland, transparent stones of all kinds, diamonds, sap- 
phires, and tortoise-shell. 

One of the most interesting bits of information in this passage is 
that the products here were paid for primarily with "a great 
amount of coin." Tiberius had grumbled about this, Pliny the 
Elder had given statistics and archaeologists have found the con- 
crete proof: a considerable number of Roman coins have been dis- 
covered in the southern tip of India, all silver and gold, no copper. 
Because the natives at the time had no coinage, these must have 
been treated as bullion: the medium of exchange was not the face 
value of the coins but a miscellaneous batch totaling a given 
weight. Those that have turned up date from the reign of Augustus 
to Nero, but this doesn't mean that trade ended abruptly at that 
time. Nero and his successors issued debased money which the In- 
dians refused to accept; merchants thenceforth had to pay either 
in the older coins or in goods. 

The trade route did not stop at the southern tip of India but 
continued up the east coast. A recent archaeological excavation has 
uncovered near Pondicherry the remains of a western trading sta- 
tion that was active from the middle of the first century A.D. to at 
least the end of the second. The author of the guidebook is familiar 
with this coast but only as far as the mouth of the Ganges. At this 
point his information peters out. He knows about Malay only 
vaguely and, making a mistake common in descriptions of remote 
places (cf. p. 139), calls it an island. And beyond Malay he reports 
a land where "there is a great inland city called Thina, from which 
raw silk and silk yarn and silk cloth are brought overland. . . . 
But this land of Thina is not easy to get to; very few men come 
from there and seldom." 

232 The Ancient Mariners 

This is where this unique manual ends but not where the an- 
cient mariners stopped. By the end of the second century A.D. they 
had pushed as far as Annam and possibly beyond. The man who 
led the way was a courageous Greek about whom nothing else is 
known except that he was called Alexander. He discovered that 
there were monsoons in the Bay of Bengal east of India as well 
as in the seas to its west and, taking advantage of this knowledge, 
made two voyages of exploration. The first carried him only across 
the bay as far as Burma but, on the second, he sailed down the 
Burmese coast, passed through the Strait of Malacca into the South 
China Sea, and got as far as Hanoi or perhaps even Canton. Soon 
the merchants who followed his lead were sailing directly across 
the mouth of the Bay of Bengal and trading with Malaya, Sumatra, 
and Java, and some, like the so-called "ambassadors of An-tun," 
were in contact with China. Here their eastward push finally came 
to a halt. They had carved out a trade route that, reckoned from 
Rome, spanned almost a third of the globe, and they had reached a 
region that westerners were not to see again until the beginning of 
the sixteenth century. For at least a hundred years more they kept 
coming: Chinese records mention a certain Lun was he a Greek 
named Leon? who reached Cochin-China (South Vietnam as it is 
currently called) by sea in A.D. 226, and a party that brought gifts 
to the emperor in 284. 

This, then, is the general picture of one of Rome's great com- 
mercial achievements, her incredibly far-flung trade with Africa, 
Arabia, India, and the Far East. A hasty glimpse at it gives the 
impression of tremendous complexity: the author of the handbook 
that provides so much of the available information drops the 
names of dozens of ports and of a bewildering variety of objects 
of trade. But a closer look reveals a simple pattern behind it all. 
There were, basically, four key products Rome drew from these 
lands and they came from four distinct areas: incense from Arabia, 
ivory from Africa, pepper from India, and silk from China (for the 
most part through India) . The first was and always had been a 
necessity, something ancient religion could not do without; but 
the others were sheer luxuries, things a wealthy Roman insisted on 
having to improve the taste of his food or the looks of his furni- 
ture and wife, though he had to pay for them in hard cash. Rome's 

All Routes Lead to Rome 233 

second great accomplishment in commerce is precisely the oppo- 
site in every respect: instead of rare and exotic luxuries intended 
for the rich, it involved a bulky and cheap commodity essential for 
the daily existence of a million people grain. And most of it 
didn't cost her a cent. 

The city of Rome posed a problem in supply that was unique. 
Starting out as a mere village, it had grown by Augustus* time into 
a sprawling metropolis of one million souls, much too big to look 
to the surrounding country for its food. As a matter of fact, long 
before it reached this size, it had begun to draw its grain from over- 
seas and the government found itself obliged, like the Greek cities 
(p. 121), to assume the responsibility for seeing to it that supplies 
were adequate. The vagaries of politics compelled it to expand the 
role it played. Around the end of the second century B.C. large 
quantities of grain were flowing in as taxes in kind from some of 
the provinces Rome now ruled. To curry favor, politicians started 
the practice first of selling grain to the citizens at below the market 
price and later of distributing it to them free. Once something like 
this gets going it can rarely be stopped: during the first three cen- 
turies after Christ an average of 200,000 people were receiving such 
handouts. To complicate matters further, the city by this time was 
getting most of its wine and oil from abroad. Between what was 
needed for the dole and for the open market, every emperor from 
Augustus to the last to sit on the throne found the annona, as the 
supply of food for the city was called, one of his most pressing 
problems. It grew worse in the third century A.D. when handouts, 
first of oil and then of wine and pork, were added to the traditional 
one of grain. The praefectus annonae, "Minister of Supply," be- 
came one of the most harried officials in the government. It wasn't 
the cost of the commodities involved that caused him trouble: 
most of Rome's grain came to her free of charge as taxes in kind 
from Sicily and North Africa and Egypt, and she drew enough taxes 
in money from all her provinces to pay for whatever else she re- 
quired. His problem was getting transportation, getting the cargoes 
moved from overseas to the capital. 

One of the rare statistics preserved from the ancient world is the 
figure for the amount of grain shipped yearly from Egypt to Rome 

234 The Ancient Mariners 

150,000 tons. And this satisfied merely a third of the city's re- 
quirements; the rest came from Sicily and North Africa. On the out- 
skirts of modern Rome, near the point on the Tiber where the 
ancient docks used to be, is a fair-sized hill called today Monte 
Testaccio, "Mount Potsherd/' It is composed, from foot to summit, 
of broken pieces of pottery, remains of the containers in which 
over the years millions of gallons of oil and wine had been shipped 
from North Africa and Spain. Now, the run from Sicily was a mat- 
ter of two days, from North Africa of three, and from Spain of little 
more than a week. But Egypt was something else again. 

Egypt lies to the southeast of Rome. The winds that prevail over 
the waters between, during the summer months when the ancient 
mariners sailed, are northwesterly. This meant that freighters raced 
downhill from Ostia or Pozzuoli to Alexandria with the wind on 
their heels in ten days to two weeks. Everything added up to a 
quick voyage: the direction of the wind made possible a direct 
trip, the winds themselves were strong and steady, and the vessels 
most often traveled in ballast since Rome had a lopsided balance 
of trade, taking in far more than she shipped out. But the skippers 
paid heavily for all this on the return: it was uphill work against 
foul winds every mile of the way. The northwesterlies dictated a 
course that was a third again as long as the voyage out. The ships, 
now fully laden, had to head for the south coast of Asia Minor on 
a port tack, there turn west and, on a starboard tack, coast along 
to Rhodes. From here they worked south of Crete and then, with 
continuous tacking, beat their way to Syracuse in Sicily, with per- 
haps a stop at Malta en route. Here they could wait, if they had 
the time, for a southerly to carry them through the Strait of Mes- 
sina and north; otherwise they headed into the northwesterlies 
once again and slogged it out the rest of the way. The voyage took 
at least fifty days and on occasions as much as seventy. A vessel 
could count on only a single round trip or, at most, a trip and a 
half during the sailing season. 

Whatever the winds, the grain Egypt consigned to Rome, all 
150,000 tons of it, had to reach the docks on the Tiber or the city 
went hungry. When Vespasian got control of the east in A.D. 69 and 
was planning to take over Rome, his first step was to seize Egypt: 
by cutting off its grain he could starve the capital into submission. 

All Routes Lead to Rome 235 

Once when supplies in the city were running low, the Emperor 
Claudius offered special rewards to skippers who were willing to 
sail during winter, even those whose ships held no more than sev- 
enty tons. Hardly an economical way of doing things, but he had 
no choice. 

There was only one way to meet the problem: see to it that 
enough big ships were available and shuttle them between Rome 
and Alexandria. Augustus took the first step he probably started 
with a group of Alexandrian shipowners who had hauled grain for 
the Ptolemies and his successors followed his lead in this as in so 
many other things. The result was the crack fleet of Rome-Alex- 
andria grain "clippers." 

By luck we happen to know what the ships on this run looked 
like. One day sometime in the second century A.D., one of them ran 
into a particularly bad stretch of weather, was blown far off course, 
and wound up, of all places, in Athens' port, the Peiraeus. This 
was a far cry from the place it had been formerly: Athens was 
now a sleepy university town and its once great harbor handled 
little more than local traffic. The arrival of a ship from the famous 
grain fleet created a sensation; the Queen Mary or any of our At- 
lantic superliners wouldn't cause more had they suddenly appeared 
at a dock in Mobile or New Orleans. The whole town turned out 
to see it including, fortunately for posterity, Lucian, one of the 
most famous and prolific writers of the age. He and a group of 
friends walked the five miles from Athens to the Peiraeus to get a 
look at what was causing all the excitement. He was astonished. 
He wrote: 

What a size the ship was! [cf. PL 12] 180 feet in length, the ship's car- 
penter told me, the beam more than a quarter of that, and 44 feet 
from the deck to the lowest' point in the hold. And the height of the 
mast, and what a yard it carried, and what a forestay they had to use 
to hold it up! And the way the stern rose up in a gradual curve ending 
in a gilded goose-head, matched at the other end by the forward, more 
flattened, sweep of the prow with its figures of Isis, the goddess the ship 
was named after, on each side! Everything was incredible: the rest of 
the decoration, the paintings, the red topsail, even more, the anchors with 
their capstans and winches, and the cabins aft. The crew was like an 
army. They told me she carried enough grain to feed every mouth in 

236 The Ancient Mariners 

Athens for a year. And it all depends for its safety on one little old man 
who turns those great steering oars with a tiller that's no more than a 
stick! They pointed him out to me; woolly-haired little fellow, half-bald; 
Heron was his name, I think." 

A length of 180 feet, beam of more than 45, a hold 44 feet deep 
it was a mighty ship, probably able to carry between 1,200 
and 1,300 tons of grain. It was as big as our Constitution, the 
famous frigate now in Boston Harbor. It held three times as much 
cargo as any merchantman that plied between Europe and America 
before 1820; it was not until 1845 that the North Atlantic saw a 
ship its size. If all employed on the run were the size of the Isis, 
Rome needed a fleet of about eighty-five to ferry the 150,000 tons 
she took yearly from Egypt. If any were smaller she needed corres- 
pondingly more. 

There were no such things as special passenger ships in the an- 
cient world. The traveler generally boarded whatever trading ves- 
sel turned up and made his way, hopping from port to port, to his 
destination. One exception was the voyage from Rome to Alex- 
andria and back: the great grain ships provided an excellent 
passenger service. "If you are going from Rome to Palestine," Em- 
peror Caligula told the young Jewish princeling Agrippa, "don't 
bother with galleys and the coastal routes but take one of OUT direct 
Italy-Alexandria merchantmen." Even the Roman emperors used 
them. When Vespasian wanted to return from Egypt to Rome in 
the spring of A.D. 70, he had at his disposal any galley in the navy, 
but he preferred to take passage on a grain clipper. The big vessels, 
keeping to the open sea, didn't waste time in daily stops along the 
way, and a point that very likely was uppermost in Vespasian's 
mind as he contemplated the two-month voyage ahead they of- 
fered accommodations that were luxury itself compared with 
cramped quarters on the poop of a cockleshell man-of-war. There 
was plenty of room aboard: when Josephus, the Jewish historian, 
crossed in A.D. 64 he had no less than six hundred fellow passengers. 

A traveler from Italy would board at Pozzuoli or, after Claudius 
and Trajan had finished their work, at The Port in the spring when 
the part of the fleet that had lain over there set sail, generally in 
ballast, for Alexandria; the ships would arrive in a few weeks and 
thus have practically the whole summer before them for a round 

All Routes Lead to Rome 237 

trip from Egypt. The rest of the fleet, which had wintered in Alex- 
andria, had a much harder schedule. They left there, fully loaded 
with grain and passengers, just as soon as the sailing season opened, 
and made port in late May or June. They were easy to spot as they 
neared the harbor, and their arrival was a great event. An eyewit- 
ness recounts: 

Today the ships from Alexandria suddenly came into view, at least 
those which are usually sent ahead to announce the coming of the fleet, 
the "despatch-boats" as they are called. It is a welcome sight to the 
country. The whole mob at Pozzuoli stands on the docks; they can 
recognize the ships from Alexandria even in a crowd of vessels by their 
sails. For, though all ships carry topsails on the open water, these are 
the only ones allowed to keep them up. . . . When they have passed 
Capri all other vessels have orders to make do with the mainsail, so the 
topsails on those from Alexandria stand out conspicuously. 

Once arrived at Pozzuoli or The Port, the ships had to hope for 
a quick turn-around since they had a full circuit, to Alexandria 
and back again to Rome, to fit in before the sailing season ended. 
This, however, couldn't always be counted on. Much was involved: 
the vessel had to be checked into port, it had to shift its load to 
barges or small freighters, and then it had to wait around until it 
got clearance from the authorities to leave. All this could take more 
than a month. There is a letter preserved which a hand on one of 
the grain ships wrote to his brother in Egypt sometime in the sec- 
ond or third century A.D.; the latter read it, threw it away, and it 
lay intact in Egypt's protecting sands until it was dug up at the end 
of the last century. It speaks for itself: 


Many greetings. I pray continuously for your health; I am well. I'm 
writing to let you know that I reached land on June 30 and that we 
unloaded on July 12. I went up to Rome on the igth and the place wel- 
comed us as the god wished. We are daily expecting our sailing orders; 
up to today not one of the grain fleet has been released. Best regards to 
your wife, and Serenus, and all your friends. Goodbye. 

Your brother IRENAEUS 
August 2 

Irenaeus' ship clearly would not be getting back to Alexandria un- 
til late in August, and squeezing in another trip to Rome before 

238 The Ancient Mariners 

the sailing season closed down was going to be nip and tuck. But 
the pressure was such that skippers had little choice: they had to 
shove off even though they ran the risk of being forced to winter 
at some harbor along the way. As a matter of fact, this is precisely 
what happened during what is probably the best-known voyage in 
ancient history, St. Paul's trip to Rome in A.D. 62. 

At Myra, a port on the south coast of Asia Minor, the Roman cen- 
turion who was escorting the group of prisoners that included Paul 
"found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy, and he put us 
therein. And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce 
were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed 
under Crete." Although it may have seemed so to the passengers, 
this was nothing unusual: their skipper would have been surprised 
had he picked up a fair wind on this leg. But Paul was soon to 
face far worse. The ship he had boarded was one of those that had 
already completed a round trip that year and was now trying to 
cram in a second run to Rome; the passenger list was consequently 
light there were only 276 aboard, counting the crew. By the time 
his vessel made Crete it was dangerously late in the season, and 
both skipper and owner elected to play it safe and put in at some 
small haven for the winter. As luck would have it, a favorable 
breeze sprang up and the decision was reached to take advantage 
of it to try for a harbor with better facilities a little farther along 
the coast. Soon after they put out to sea an east-north-east gale 
struck them. Centuries before Paul's time the same wind had blown 
Colaeus to fame and fortune (p. 80), and sailors today still keep 
a weather eye out for the Gregale, as they call it. For fourteen days 
the vessel rode helplessly before it under bare poles; the crew kept 
the seams from opening by passing girding ropes around the planks, 
they cut away part of the rigging, and at the very end jettisoned 
the cargo of grain to lighten ship. Colaeus had been driven all the 
way to Spain, but Paul was luckier: at midnight of the fourteenth 
day the seamen suddenly sensed that land was near. The leadsman 
was ordered to take soundings. He reported first twenty fathoms 
then, very soon after, fifteen; the water was shoaling dangerously 
fast. The skipper had four anchors heaved astern to hold on until 
day broke. As soon as there was some light, he saw that there was 
only one thing to do: try to run the ship ashore. He ordered the 

All Routes Lead to Rome 239 

artemon raised, the anchors cut away, and the helmsman to head 
for the beach. The gamble worked: everyone aboard was rescued, 
although the vessel broke in two. The land turned out to be 
Malta, and Paul spent three months there until another grain clip- 
per, one that had started from Alexandria a little ahead of his ship 
but had prudently put in at the island for the winter, took him on 
the last leg of the journey when the sailing season reopened the fol- 
lowing spring. 

The Apostle's voyage graphically points up the hazards that faced 
the ships on the Rome-Alexandria grain run. The creation and 
maintenance of this fleet was Rome's single greatest maritime 
achievement, at once a great passenger and a great freight service. 
The vessels, like practically all other merchantmen, were owned, 
commanded, and manned by Greeks or Phoenicians or Syrians, but 
it was the Romans who called the fleet into being and it was their 
genius that lay behind its organization and administration. For 
size of vessels and volume of cargo, it had no peer until the British 
East Indiamen of the early nineteenth century. Year in and year out 
the great ships kept sailing until, in A.D. 330, Cons tan tine the Great 
finished building another city to serve as the capital of the em- 
pire, Constantinople, on the site of the ancient Greek town of By- 
zantium (p. 78). He took over the fleet to bring the grain of Egypt 
to his new foundation and left those who remained at Rome to be 
fed by the quick shuttle service from North Africa and Sicily. 

An End 
I7 and a 


IN A.D. 269 a horde of Goths ripped up and down the Aegean, 
spreading havoc among the islands. Goths on the warpath were 
nothing new: the movement of barbarian peoples that was to tear 
huge rents in the fabric of the Roman Empire was well under way 
by this time. What was new was to find them on the sea. After two 
centuries of easy living, carrying out peacetime maneuvers and fer- 
rying troops, Rome's great navy had, like so much else in the 
empire, gone soft. By A.D. 230 the plague of piracy had erupted 
again; between 253 and 267 mobs of Goths were using the water- 
ways, the Black Sea and the Aegean, to get to the scene of their 
maraudings; by 285, when Diocletian was crowned emperor, the 
provincial squadrons had vanished from the Mediterranean and 
the big Italian fleets had shrunk to mere skeletons; and in 324, when 
Constantine the Great fought it out on the sea with one of his 
rivals, both sides had to commandeer ships from the maritime cities 
of the east. A full cycle had been traversed: Rome was again vir- 
tually without a navy. 

In A.D. 395 the Roman Empire broke into two parts, an eastern 
and a western; whatever warships were left moved to the east and 

An End and a Beginning 241 

the Vandals had a field day in the western Mediterranean. They 
were a Germanic tribe that had spilled over into North Africa. 
From there, practically without breaking stride, they took to the 
sea, captured Sardinia and Corsica and other strategic islands, and 
in 455 even succeeded in sacking Rome. There was no one to stop 
them; matters were worse than in the worst days of the pirates of 
Cilicia (pp. 201-3). But when their leader, Gaiseric, died in 477, 
their plunderings came to a halt. Gradually another fleet arose to 
restore and maintain some order on the water. The credit goes to 
those most able of the ancient mariners, the Greeks of the eastern 
Mediterranean; it was the last contribution they were to make, and 
it was a notable one. 

The western part of the Roman Empire little by little fell into 
the hands of invaders from Germany. But the eastern was made of 
sterner stuff: the Byzantine Empire, as the nation that took root 
here is called, did not come to an end until 1453 when the Turks 
finally took Constantinople, its capital. One of the chief reasons 
for this long life was sea power. Shortly after A.D. 500 the empire 
launched a navy that managed to fill the gap left by Rome's col- 
lapse on the sea. In the seventh century a dangerous enemy unex- 
pectedly appeared on the scene: in 636 the Arabs embarked on 
their meteoric career by conquering Syria; a few years later they 
added Egypt and, by the end of the century, all of North Africa. 
To meet the new menace, the empire built up its navy into a power- 
ful force, big enough to be divided, like its predecessor, into a home 
fleet and a number of provincial detachments. Until the eleventh 
century it was the strongest in the eastern Mediterranean, although 
it had to fight some bitter battles against the squadrons of Islam to 
hold the distinction. The new navy was no warmed-over version of 
what the Romans had used: the ships were of different design and, 
from A.D. 678 on, they mounted a new and terrible type of weapon. 
Its introduction came at a dramatic and timely moment. 

In 673 the Arabs began an all-out attack by water against Con- 
stantinople. Every summer for the next five years their ships sailed 
from an advanced base on the island of Cyzicus in the Sea of Mar- 
mora to harry and blockade the Byzantine capital. A sack seemed 
just a matter of time and would have been were it not for one 
man. Callinicus, an engineer, had fled to Constantinople from his 

242 The Ancient Mariners 

native town when the Arabs flooded into Syria. At one and the 
same time he paid off both those who had driven him out and those 
who had taken him in: he saved the city by coming up, in the nick 
of time, with a new way of using an old weapon, fire. 

The Greeks and the Romans had for centuries tried fire in one 
form or another. On the sea, back in the second century B.C., the 
Rhodians had won some spectacular victories by hanging blazing 
fire pots in front of their galleys (pp. 152, 171). The key ingredient 
in almost all the formulas for "Greek fire" as the various in- 
flammable mixtures came to be called in later times was what 
the ancients referred to as naphtha, crude oil which, throughout the 
oil-rich areas of the Near East, could be scooped up at dozens of 
points where it seeped out of the ground. Although it was inflam- 
mable enough in its simple state, the usual practice was to lace it 
with sulphur or pitch or quicklime. Then came a revolutionary dis- 
covery: if saltpeter were included, a mixture resulted which was 
capable of spontaneous combustion. Callinicus has been given the 
credit for having been the first to hit upon this. If he wasn't, he 
must have at least developed a formula vastly more effective than 
any hitherto known: it not only saved the Byzantines at the time, 
but provided them with their chief weapon for the future; merely 
by keeping it a secret from the Arabs they were able to hold a clean 
advantage on the sea for centuries. 

Callinicus' phenomenal success turned fighting with fire into one 
of the major modes of warfare of the age, and a whole arsenal of 
new weapons came into being. Ships were now fitted with two types 
of incendiary artillery. One was the catapult now loaded, not only 
with arrows and stones, but with clay jars filled with the latest, 
most improved version of Callinicus' self-igniting mixture; on im- 
pact they shattered and the contents, splattered about, burst every- 
where into flame. The other was probably the most advanced 
military device before the cannon: an incendiary rocket and the 
mechanism to launch it. A bronze tube was mounted on deck and 
into it was slipped a reed that had been filled with Greek fire and 
stoppered. The tube was aimed and a fuse was lit; it ignited the 
reed, which burst into flame; the gases released shot it out of the 
tube, and a shaft of fire streaked through the air toward the target. 
But it was fighting at dose quarters rather than at a distance that 

An End and a Beginning 243 

called into play the Byzantines' most deadly weapon, the one that 
became standard equipment on all their warships. This was a great 
long tube, of wood lined with bronze, that was set on the foredeck 
with its mouth trained outward. Its other end was coupled to an air 
pump. It was loaded with Greek fire; this was ignited, the pump 
was worked and a shaft of flame belched forth from the mouth (PL 
i6b) . It was the world's first flame-thrower, and a terrifyingly effec- 
tive one. There was even a miniature model, small enough to hold in 
the hand, which marines used: they kept it hidden behind their 
shield and, at the appropriate moment, fired it at the enemy. 

The naval arms of the age were new and so were the ships that 
carried them. The Romans had gone in for two-banked vessels to 
some extent, but the backbone of their navy was the trireme (pp. 
209, 213). The ship of the line of the Byzantine fleets was the 
dromon, "runner" (PL i6a) . It was designed, as its name shows, 
particularly for speed and it was always two-banked; triremes, 
quadriremes, and so on were now things of the past It carried one 
hundred oars, twenty-five in each level on each side. They were all 
worked through ports in the hull; the outrigger (p. 92) had gone 
out with the third bank. Though there were larger and smaller 
classes of dromons, all ran more or less about the same length, 130 
feet or so, enough to provide room for twenty-five oarsmen and for 
fighting decks fore and aft. It was their beam that varied. Some 
were wide enough to seat two rowers, and the largest class three, 
at each of the upper oars, with correspondingly greater space for 
marines and armament. These beamier types struck a balance be- 
tween power and speed: to a basically fast design they added the 
force that comes from propulsion by multirower oars. 

The dromon was a blunt ship with angular rather than smoothly 
flowing lines. Near the prow and stern the ribs rose almost ver- 
tically from the keel; elsewhere they branched out horizontally 
from it, then turned abruptly upward. To reduce weight and in- 
crease speed, the amidships section was left open; three long cat- 
walks, one down the center and two along the gunwales, linked up 
the decking in the fore and after areas. The decks rose a few feet 
above the line of the gunwale and, along the low waist between, a 
light wooden frame was erected on which shields were hung, very 
much as on Viking ships, to protect the rowers. The ships carried 

244 The Ancient Mariners 

two masts, sometimes three, and, in the later centuries at least, 
these were fitted with lateen sails. Since this rig is light and easy to 
handle, the sails were carried during battle and not left ashore as 
had been the practice previously (p. 97). 

The prow of a dromon, like all earlier warships, jutted forward 
to end in a ram. But more important were the new fire weapons 
and the armament connected with boarding and fighting at close 
quarters. In the bows was a forecastle from which marines could 
sweep an enemy's deck with missiles. The largest dromons added 
a second castle amidships with long overhangs projecting laterally 
over the gunwales; on each a heavy weight was suspended and, 
when an enemy came so close that these were poised over his 
rowers, the lashings that held them were loosed or cut away. Every 
ship carried a flame-thrower in the bows; larger units mounted 
rocket-launchers and catapults; and the largest had all this plus 
an extra pair of flame-throwers, one amidships and one at the stern. 
Since the enemy also used fire. in some form, vulnerable parts of 
the vessel were protected with stretched hides which, in battle, be- 
cause water was ineffectual against Greek fire, were saturated with 

The dromon was the ship of the line not only of the imperial 
navy but, with some modifications, of its principal rival as well. 
The Arabs who overran Syria and Egypt were a people far more 
at home on the desert than on the water, and the keels of their 
first squadrons were laid down in the dockyards of Alexandria by 
Greeks and Egyptians who shortly before had been building ships 
for the Byzantine fleet. For centuries afterward the new rulers drew 
on their conquered subjects not only for shipwrights but also for 
crews. In the first and second centuries A.D. Egyptian youngsters had 
rowed the vessels of Rome's Misene fleet (p. 211); in the seventh 
and eighth and even later, they manned the benches of the Caliph's 
Egyptian squadron, while Arab marines fought from its decks. 

The imperial navy was a worthy replacement for Rome's. It had 
to be: without a first-rate fighting force the Byzantines would have 
lost their commerce to Arab raiders and their capital to the Arab 
grand fleet. In the field of merchant shipping, however, though 
they carried on for a while an active and widespread commerce, 

An End and a Beginning 245 

they produced nothing to match the achievements of their prede- 
cessors. Rome's greatest efforts had been called forth by her trade 
in the Indian Ocean and by the challenge of the run from Alex- 
andria to the Tiber; the one played only a short-lived part, and 
the other none, in the commerce of her successors. 

In the second century B.C. the Ptolemies had broken the age-old 
monopoly of the Indians and Arabs in the trade with India (pp. 
185-7). By the beginning of the sixth century A.D., Persian shippers 
and sailors had taken most of it over from the Greeks and Egyp- 
tians. The coup de grace came in 641: in that year the Arabs cap- 
tured Egypt, and Byzantine merchants were once for all cut off 
from direct contact with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. From that 
time on, Persians and Arabs shared the commerce in these waters 
until Vasco da Gama sailed his squadron into the harbor of Calicut 
on May 20, 1498. 

The Arab conquest of Egypt meant, too, that the Nile's harvest 
now went down tie Red Sea to Mecca and Medina instead of across 
the Mediterranean to Europe. But it was not this which brought 
about the end of Rome's great fleet of grain carriers; that had taken 
place hundreds of years before. Soon after Constantine had founded 
his new capital, the huge cargoes of Egyptian grain that used to go 
to the Tiber were diverted northward to the Bosporus. Getting it 
to the new destination was far simpler than to the old; there was 
no need for a fleet of superfreighters. The run was so much shorter 
and easier that vessels could make two or even three round trips a 
season. The only difficulty was navigating the Dardanelles (cf. p. 
76) and the Emperor Justinian, in the early part of the sixth cen- 
tury, solved this by building a big granary on the island of Tenedos 
near the mouth of the strait. It was 280 feet long, 90 wide, and 
quite tall, large enough to hold the combined cargoes of all the 
vessels on the run. When the wind in the strait was foul, ships un- 
loaded here and hustled back to Egypt, leaving it to small craft to 
carry the grain the rest of the way as soon as a favorable breeze 
came along. The debacle of 641 brought even this service to an 
end. From then on the capital depended on the supplies it could 
shuttle in from the Balkans and South Russia. 

All this does not mean that the Byzantine Empire abandoned 
maritime commerce once Egypt was lost to it. For over a hundred 

246 The Ancient Mariners 

years thereafter its traders were still to be found in every major 
port from Italy to the Black Sea, and its fleet not only guaranteed 
safe passage for their freighters but, in certain areas, ensured a 
monopoly by keeping those of competitors away. Persians and Arabs 
brought the products of the East to the Mediterranean, but it was 
the Byzantine merchant who forwarded them to the West. As time 
went on, however, he became soft, preferring the office and ware- 
house to the deck. The empire's merchant marine gradually 
dwindled away; Constantinople remained a great commercial cen- 
ter, but what it imported and exported traveled now in Arab or 
Syrian or Italian bottoms. By A.D. 1100 the Byzantines had com- 
pletely relinquished their old role: the energetic traders of Pisa 
and Genoa and Venice now held the commerce of the Mediter- 
ranean in their grasp, and Italian fleets were in control of its waters. 
A century or so later came the great contributions of the Middle 
Ages to the arts of the sailor: helmsmen now steered by the compass 
instead of by the stars or sun or wind, and with an efficient stern 
rudder instead of the old steering oars. Moreover, the time was 
drawing near when the ram and the flame-thrower were to make 
way for naval cannon. The day of the ancient mariner was truly 

Table of Dates 

Dates before 500 B.C. 
are all approximate. 

B.C. See page 

3500-34 00 Invention of sails (?) 2 

2900 Earliest pictures of sails s 

2650 Pharaoh Snefru imports timber from Lebanon 4 

Earliest contacts between Egypt and Crete 21 

2550 Pharaoh Sahure ferries troops 14 

2500 Trade between Mesopotamia and India 8 

2375 Pharaoh Pepi ferries troops 27 
2000 Pharaoh Mentuhotep III sends a ship down the Red Sea 10 

Pharaoh Senusret cuts a canal between the Nile and 

the Red Sea 10 

2000-1500 Heyday of Minoan maritime activity 21 

1500-1100 Mainland Greece foremost in the Aegean 24, 31 

150 Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt n 

1490-1436 Thutmose III 16, 27 

Rekhmire 18 

1413-1377 Amenhotep III 17, 29 

Kenamon 17 

1380-1362 Ikhnaton 24, 28 

The Tell el-Amarna letters 29 

1300-1000 Age of the Sea Raiders 31, 43 

1190 Ramses III defeats the "Northerners of the Isles" 31 

1184 Traditional date of the fall of Troy 34 

1100 Wenamon's voyage 47 

Dorian Greeks migrate into the Greek peninsula 66 

Voyage of the Argo 60 


248 Table of Dates 

970 Phoenicians supply timber to Solomon 69 

Phoenician trade with India 70 

1000-700 Phoenicians colonize the west 71 

800-550 Age of Greek colonization 72 

800 Invention of the ram and penteconter 84 

700 Invention of two-banked galleys 86 

550 Invention of the trireme 92 

600 Necho's expedition circumnavigates Africa 129 

500 Hanno's voyage 133 

49-479 Wars between the Persians and Greeks 89 

480 Battles of Artemisium and Salamis 90 

480-322 Athens controls the Aegean 103, 127 

431-404 The Peloponnesian War 102 

429 Battle of Patras 103 

415-413 Syracusan expedition 105 

406 Battle of Arginusae 101 

405 Battle of Aegospotami 106 

398 Invention of the quinquereme 125 

384-322 Demosthenes 116 

336-323 Alexander the Great 127 

322 Battle of Amorgos and destruction of the 

Athenian navy 127 

310 (?) Pytheas* voyage 137 

323-31 The Hellenistic Age 141 

305-283 Ptolemy I (Soter) 141 

Antigonus the One-Eyed 141 

Demetrius Poliorcetes 144 

285-246 Ptolemy II (Philadelphus) 150 

2 79~*39 Antigonus Gonatas 149 

264-241 First Punic War 159 

260 Battle of Mylae 162 

256 Battle of Ecnomus 164 

255 Battle of Cape Hermaeum 164 

241 Battle of the Aegates Islands 165 

246-221 Ptolemy III (Evergetes) 176 

221-203 Ptolemy IV (Philopator) 145, 181 

221-179 Philip V 156,167,240 

218-201 Second Punic War 166 

201 Rhodian embassy to Rome 156, 167 






120 (?) 




27 B.C.- 

A.D. l8o 

27 B.C.- 

A.D. 14 









Table of Dates 249 

Rome defeats Philip V 167 

Rome defeats Antiochus III (the Great) 168 

Battle of Cissus 169 

Battle of Side 169 

Battle of Myonnesus 171 

Rome defeats Perseus 172 

Delos becomes a free port 183 

Destruction of Carthage 172 

Eudoxus sails to India 186 

Rome's first war with Mithridates VI (Eupator) 188, 202 

First sack of Delos 188 

Second sack of Delos 188 

Pompey destroys the pirates of Cilicia 204 

Caesar defeats Pompey 206 

Assassination of Caesar 206 

Defeat of Brutus and Cassius 207 

Battle of Naulochus 208 

Battle of Actium 208 

Heyday of the Roman Empire 

Augustus 208-209 

Tiberius 228 

Caligula (Gaius) 215, 236 

Claudius 225, 235 

Nero 226 

St. Paul's voyage to Rome 238 

Vespasian 228, 234, 236 




Trajan 225 


Antoninus Pius 

Marcus Aurelius 228 

Goths in the Aegean 240 

Diocletian 240 

Constantine 240 

Founding of Constantinople 239, 245 

Division of the Roman Empire 240 

Vandals sack Rome 241 

250 Table of Dates 

527-5 6 5 Justinian 245 

636 Arabs conquer Syria 241 

641 Arabs conquer Egypt 241, 245 

673-678 Arabs besiege Constantinople; defenders use Greek fire 241 


The bibliographies listed below for the various chapters are each 
divided into two parts. The first part gives the source of more important 
passages quoted, and of documents treated at length, in the text. The 
second provides a list of works selected with two ends in view: first, to 
furnish the reader with some idea of the evidence upon which the state- 
ments in the text are based; second, to enable him to pursue the subjects 
in greater detail. Writings in foreign languages are included only where 
nothing adequate exists in English. 

Chapters 1 and 2 

P. 4, "Bringing of ... cedar logs . . ." J. B. Pritchard, Ancient Near 

Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1950), 227. 
P. 5, "No one really sails . . ." Pritchard, op. cit., 441. 
P. 9, letter of Ea-nasir. A. L. Oppenheim (see Bibliography below), 10-11. 
P. 10, inscription of Henu. J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt 

(Chicago, 1906), Vol. i, 430. 
P. 11, story of the shipwrecked sailor. A. Erman, The Literature of the 

Ancient Egyptians (London, 1927), 29-35. 
P. 13, Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt. Breasted, op. cit. f Vol. 2, 246- 

P. 20, "Minos is the first . . ." Thucydides 1.4. 


A convenient summary of Egyptian and Mesopotamian trade can be found 
in James Hornell's "Sea-Trade in Early Times," Antiquity 15 (1941), 

252 Selected Bibliography 

233-256. The business records of the traders of Mesopotamia are described 
by A. L. Oppenheim in "The Seafaring Merchants of Ur," Journal of the 
American Oriental Society 74 (1954) , 6-17. T. Save-Soderbergh's The Navy 
of the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty (Uppsala, 1946) contains an excellent 
exposition of Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt and of Thutmose's use of 
sea power in his campaigns. Sahure's and Hatshepsut's ships are discussed 
in detail in R. O. Faulkner's "Egyptian Seagoing Ships," Journal of Egyp- 
tian Archaeology 26 (1940), 3-9. Faulkner has also given a detailed descrip- 
tion of the ships pictured in Kenamon's tomb in "A Syrian Trading Venture 
to Egypt," Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 33 (1947), 40-46. 

The archaeological evidence for trade in the eastern Mediterranean in 
the third millennium B.C. can be found in Relative Chronologies in Old 
World Archaeology , edited by Robert W. Ehrich (Chicago, 1954), and for 
the second millennium in H. J. Kantor's The Aegean and Orient in the 
Second Millennium B.C. (Bloomington, Indiana, 1947). Early trade in the 
west is discussed in T. J. Dunbabin's "Minos and Daedalos in Sicily," 
Papers of the British School at Rome 16 (1948), 1-18. The chapters on 
trade and international relations in G. Glotz' Aegean Civilization (New 
York, 1925), 185-226, although somewhat out of date now, still provide an 
entertaining and useful survey of Cretan and Mycenaean trade and present 
what is known of the ships used. Michael Ventris has presented a brief, 
simplified account of his decipherment of the Mycenaean script in "King 
Nestor's Four-Handled Cups," Archaeology 7 (1954), 15-21, and George 
Mylonas a resume" for the general reader of the light they throw on the 
history of Greece in the second millennium in "Mycenaean Greek and 
Minoan-Mycenaean Relations," Archaeology 9 (1956) , 273-279. 

Chapters 3-5 

P. 28, "Every port town . . ." Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 241. 

P. 29, letters of Rib-Addi. S. Mercer, The Tell El-Amarna Tablets (To- 
ronto 1939), Nos. 85, 98, 101, 105, 111, 113, 114. 

P. 30, letter of the King of Cyprus. Mercer, op. cit., No. 38. 

P. 31, Ramses' defeat of the Northerners. Breasted, Ancient Records of 
Egypt, Vol. 4, 75, 77; Pritchard, op. cit., 262-263. 

P. 39, Odysseus' boatbuilding. Odyssey 5. 244-261. 

P. 43, Odysseus' tale. Ibid., 14. 245-359. 

P. 45, Menelaus' experiences. Ibid., 4. 81-85. 

P. 46, Odysseus' sack of a town. Ibid., 9. 40-42. 

Selected Bibliography 253 

P. 46, "In ancient times . . ." Thucydides i. 5, 7. 

P- 47, Wenamon's narrative. Pritchard, op. cit., 25-29. 

P. 64, "precipitous cliffs . . ." Odyssey 12. 59-60. 


The story of Egypt's navy is told by T. Save-Soderbergh in The Navy of 
the Eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty (Uppsala, 1946). A. R. Burn's Minoans, 
Philistines and Greeks (London, 1930) has imaginative and well written 
chapters on the sea-raiding peoples (108-172), piracy (173-188), Jason's 
voyage (189-197), and the Trojan War (198-222). A brief summary of the 
piracy of the age can be found in H. A. Ormerod's Piracy in the Ancient 
World (Liverpool, 1924), 80-94. All that Homer has to say about ships 
is nicely summarized in T. D. Seymour's Life in the Homeric Age (London, 
1907), Chapter XI. 

Chapter 6 

P. 68, "unload their wares . . ." Herodotus 4. 196. 
P. 69, "Now therefore command ..." I Kings 5. 6-11. 
P. 70, "And King Solomon ..." I Kings 9. 26-28. 


For an up-to-date general work on the Phoenicians, see G. Contenau's 
La civilisation phdnidenne (Paris, second edition, 1949), and for a recent 
account of their activities in the west see G. Bosch Gimpera's "Phniciens 
et Grecs dans l'Extrme-Occident," La Nouvelle Clio 3 (1951), 269-296. 
There is an interesting chapter (5) on the Phoenicians in Julian Huxley's 
From an Antique Land (New York, 1954) ; see in particular pages 73-76 for 
his description of the dyeing industry. 

For the earliest contacts between Greeks and Phoenicians, see H. L. 
Lorimer's Homer and the Monuments (London, 1950), Chapter II, where 
the archaeological evidence is exhaustively treated. There is a convenient 
r&ume" of Greek colonizing activity in The Cambridge Ancient History f 
Volume 3 (London and New York, 1929) , Chapter XXV (by J. L. Myres) . 
T. J. Dunbabin's The Western Greeks (Oxford, 1948) is an exhaustive 
treatment of the colonization of the west, particularly good on the archae- 
ological side. 

254 Selected Bibliography 

There is no adequate account o the ships of this age, although they 
are discussed in all the handbooks. G. S. Kirk in "Ships on Geometric 
Vases," Annual of the British School at Athens 44 (1949), 93-153, offers a 
fine collection of material but, because of preconceived notions about ships 
of earlier and later periods, comes to a number of erroneous conclusions. L. 
Cohen's "Evidence for the Ram in the Minoan Period," American Journal 
of Archaeology 42 (1938), 486-494, demonstrates that the ram was most 
likely invented some time between the tenth and eighth centuries B.C. 
For the hemiolia see L. Casson's "Hemiolia and Triemiolia," Journal of 
Hellenic Studies 78 (1958) , 14-18. 

Chapter 7 

Scholars have debated tor centuries about how the oars of a trireme were 
arranged. In general there have been two schools of thought, one holding 
for three superimposed banks, the other for one bank of oarsmen grouped 
in clusters of three as in the galleys called a zenzile that the Venetians 
used in medieval and Renaissance times. The question was settled once and 
for all in favor of the former by J. S. Morrison in two articles: "The 
Greek Trireme," The Mariner's Mirror 27 (1941), 14-44, an d "Notes on 
Certain Greek Nautical Terms and on Three Passages in I.G. ii 2 1632," 
The Classical Quarterly 41 (1947), 122-135. J. A. Davison in "The First 
Greek Triremes," The Classical Quarterly 41 (1947), 18-24, demonstrated 
that the introduction of the trireme into the fleets, often put as early as 
704 B.C., really belongs somewhere beween 550 and 525. Details of rigging 
and gear can be found in C. Torr's Ancient Ships (Cambridge, 1895). 

There is an excellent discussion of ancient battle tactics in Chapter V 
of H. T. Wallinga's The Boarding-Bridge of the Romans, Historische 
Studies uitgegeven vanwege het Instituut voor Geschiedenis der Rijksuni- 
versiteit te Utrecht 6 (Groningen, 1956) . The only book devoted to the 
subject, Vice-Admiral W. L. Rodgers* Greek and Roman Naval Warfare 
(Annapolis, 1937) , must be used with caution: the author too often 
cavalierly relies on his experience and knowledge as a seaman instead 
of on the accounts of the ancient authorities. A. W. Gomme has some acute 
observations about the limitations ancient battle fleets faced in "A For- 
gotten Factor of Greek Naval Strategy," Essays in Greek History and Litera- 
ture (Oxford, 1937), 190-203. 

The ancient authority for the battles of Artemisium and Salamis is 
Herodotus (8. 1-96) , but his accounts are in places confused and seemingly 

Selected Bibliography 255 

contradictory. N. G. L, Hammond has provided a convincing reconstruc- 
tion of Salamis in "The Battle of Salamis," Journal of Hellenic Studies 76 
(1956) , 32-54. Phormio's victories are described by Thucydides in 2. 83-92, 
and the complicated land and sea operations about Syracuse fill most of 
his Books 6 and 7. Accounts of the battles of Arginusae and Aegospotami 
are in Xenophon's Hellenica (1.6. 24-38 and 2. i. 16-30) . 

Chapter 8 

P. 116, Zenothemis and Hegestratus. Demosthenes, Orat. 32, Against 

Zenothemis (text and translation by A. T. Murray in the Loeb Classical 

Library edition of Demosthenes, Vol. 4 [London 1936], 179-197) . 
P. 118, the two Lycians. Demosthenes, Orat. 35, Against Lacritus (text and 

translation by Murray, op. cit., 279-315; translation in the text is based 

on Murray's). 
P. 122, Heracleides' decree. W. Dittenberger, Sylloge Inscriptionum 

Graecarum (Leipzig, third edition, 1915) , Vol. i, No. 304; cf. G. W. 

Botsford and E. G. Sihler, Hellenic Civilization (New York, 1929; 

Columbia University Records of Civilization), 586-590. 
P. 125, a trierarch's complaints. Demosthenes, Orat. 50, Against Polycles, 

sections 14-16 (text and translation by Murray, op. cit., Vol. 6 [London, 

1939]' 15-17)- 


G. M. Calhoun's The Business Life of Ancient Athens (Chicago, 1926) 
provides a brief and entertaining survey of the commercial activities of the 
Peiraeus. For a more detailed treatment see H. Knorringa's Emporos: Data 
on Trade and Trader in Greek Literature from Homer to Aristotle 
(Amsterdam, 1926). J. Hasebroek's Trade and Politics in Ancient Greece 
(London, 1933, English translation of a work published originally in 
German in 1928) contains much useful detail, but its picture of the position 
of trade in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. must be viewed with a good 
deal of caution; the distortion is corrected in A. W. Gomme's "Traders 
and Manufacturers in Greece," Essays in Greek History and Literature 
(Oxford, 1937) , 42-66. T. R. Glover's From Pericles to Philip (London, 
fourth edition, 1926) includes an entertaining account of the fortunes 
of Pasion and his family (Chapter X) . 

Dionysius' naval innovations are mentioned by Diodorus Siculus (14. 41. 

256 Selected Bibliography 

3, 42. 2, 44. 7) . For an account of his career see The Cambridge Ancient 
History, Volume 6 (London and New York 1927) , Chapter V (by J. B. 
Bury) . On the introduction of quadriremes and quinqueremes into the 
Athenian navy, see J. S. Morrison in The Mariner's Mirror 27 (1941), 
41-43, and, for the speed of sailing ships, L. Casson's "Speed Under Sail of 
Ancient Ships," Transactions of the American Philological Association 82 

Chapter 9 

P. 129, Necho and Sataspes. Herodotus 4. 42-43. 

P. 133, Hanno. Translated by M. Gary and E. H. Warmington in The 

Ancient Explorers (New York, 1929), 47-51. This translation has, with 

minor changes, been reproduced in the text. 


Gary and Warmington provide a detailed and interesting account of the 
major voyages of discovery in the ancient world: Chapter III deals with 
Pytheas, Hanno, and other expeditions into the Atlantic, and Chapter V 
with Necho, Sataspes, and other attempts to circumnavigate Africa. More 
recent treatments of the same material can be found in W. W. Hyde's 
Ancient Greek Mariners (New York, 1947), Chapters VI (Pytheas), VII 
(Hanno), and XI (Necho, Sataspes) , and in J. O. Thomson's History of 
Ancient Geography (Cambridge, 1948), 71-77 (Necho, Sataspes, Hanno) 
and 143-151 (Pytheas) . Thomson's footnotes (whose style is so compressed 
that they sound at times like the utterances of Dickens' Alfred Jingle) give 
a good survey of previous writings On the subject and the various points 
of view they express. A recent article by D. B. Harden, "The Phoenicians 
on the West Coast of Africa," Antiquity 22 (1948), 141-150, argues con- 
vincingly that Cerne is to be located at the mouth of the Senegal. 

Chapter 10 

P. 148, letter of Apollodotus. A. S. Hunt and C. C. Edgar, Select Papyri, 
Vol. 2 (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1934) , 
No. 410. 

Selected Bibliography 257 

P. 153, inscription of Alexidamus. M. Segre, "Dedica votiva dell* equipaggio 
di una nave Rodia," Clara Rhodos 8 (1936), 225-244. 

P. 154, inscription of Polycles. A. Maiuri, Nuova silloge epigrafica di Rodi 
e Cos (Florence, 1925), No. 18. 

p. 155, inscription of the three brothers. M, Segre, "Due nuovi testi storici," 
Rivista di filologia 60 (1932), 446-461. 


A detailed historical narrative of the events in the eastern Mediterranean 
in the third century B.C. can be found in three fine chapters by W. W. 
Tarn in The Cambridge Ancient History: Volume 6 (1927), Chapter XV; 
Volume 7 (1928) , Chapters III and XXII. 

There is no satisfactory work on the great Hellenistic warships. The best 
is Tarn's Hellenistic Military and Naval Developments (Cambridge, 1930), 
122-152, although it has a number of serious weaknesses (Tarn refuses to 
recognize that galleys with superimposed banks ever existed and wrongly 
states that catapults were never used on shipboard in the Hellenistic 
Age) . The size of the fleets is discussed in detail by Tarn in his Antigonos 
Gonatas (Oxford, 1913), 454-45 8 - 

We are badly off for descriptions of battles in which supergalleys took 
part. Only two have survived: Diodorus Siculus recounts (20. 49-52) the 
Battle of Salamis between Demetrius and Ptolemy I, and Polybius (16. 2-8) 
the Battle of Chios in which Rhodes and Pergamum together fought Philip 
V. Both have been discussed in detail by W. L. Rodgers in Greek and 
Roman Naval Warfare (239-242 and 379-385) , but his accounts must be 
treated with caution (see above, Bibliography to Chapter 7) . H. T. Wal- 
linga's The Boarding-Bridge of the Romans has (46-48) a short but per- 
ceptive description of the Battle of Salamis. 

A detailed study of the Rhodian navy and its activities is yet to be 
written. In "Dedica votiva . . ." cited above, M. Segre, using a newly dis- 
covered inscription as his starting point, works out a good many of the 
details of the crews. For the triemiolia see L. Casson's "Hemiolia and 
Triemiolia," Journal of Hellenic Studies 78 (1958), 14-18. 

Chapter 11 

P. 163, Duilius' inscription. E. H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin, 
Vol. 4 (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1940), 

258 Selected Bibliography 


A convenient narrative of the wars dealt with in this chapter can be 
found in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 7 (1928), Chapter XXI 
(First Punic War, by T. Frank), and Volume 8 (1930), Chapters IMV 
(Second Punic War, by B. L. Hallward) , V-VI (war with Philip, by M. 
Holleaux) , and VII (war with Antiochus, by Holleaux) . A definitive study 
of the development of Roman sea power from its beginnings through the 
period covered in this chapter is provided by two books by J. H. Thiel: 
A History of Roman Sea-Power Before the Second Punic War (Amsterdam, 
1954) and Studies on the History of Roman Sea-Power in Republican 
Times (Amsterdam, 1946) . The two are somewhat hard to read because 
they are packed with detail, treat exhaustively every problem large and 
small, and are rather long-winded and repetitious. There is an excellent 
brief account of the story of Roman sea power by W. W. Tarn in J. Sandys' 
A Companion to Latin Studies (Cambridge, third edition, 1921), pages 

The corvus has been the subject of much debate and there are long sec- 
tions devoted to it in both of Thiel's books. But the credit for ending the 
controversy goes to one of his students, H. T. Wallinga, who in his The 
Boarding-Bridge of the Romans provides what is almost certainly the cor- 
rect explanation. 

Chapter 12 

P. 173, contract for Red Sea voyage. M. Rostovtzeff (see Bibliography be- 
low), 922, 1555. 

P. 177, cargo manifest. C. C. Edgar, Zenon Papyri, Vol. i (Cairo, 1925), 
No. 59012. 


The fullest account of all phases of economic life in the Hellenistic 
world, including maritime trade, is M. RostovtzefFs monumental three- 
volume The Social and Economic History of the Hellenistic World (Oxford, 
1941). W. W. Tarn in Chapter VII ("Trade and Exploration") of his 
Hellenistic Civilization (London, third edition revised with the aid of G. 

Selected Bibliography 259 

T. Griffith, 1953) provides a convenient and well written summary. L. 
Casson's "The Grain Trade of the Hellenistic World/' Transactions of the 
American Philological Association 85 (1954), 168-187, corrects the over- 
emphasis both writers have given to Delos as a figure in the trade in com- 
modities. G. F. Hourani's Arab Seafaring in the Indian Ocean in Ancient 
and Early Medieval Times (Princeton, 1951) contains a useful summary 
(6-28) of the history of trade with India and is particularly good on the 
experiences of the Arabs in this region (25-38) . 

Chapter 13 

Underwater archaeology is as yet so new a field that there are no scholarly 
books devoted entirely to it. A number of articles summarize the earlier 
finds, those chiefly of works of art: A. Merlin, "Submarine Discoveries in 
the Mediterranean," Antiquity 4 (1930) , 405-414; S. Casson, "Submarine 
Research in Greece," Antiquity 13 (1939), 80-86; G. Karo, "Art Salvaged 
from the Sea," Archaeology i (1948), 179-185. A popular account, good but 
all too often excessively wordy, of underwater discovery, particularly along 
the Riviera, is to be found in P. Diote's 4000 Years Under the Sea (New 
York, 1954; an English translation of a work published originally in French 
in 1952). For a scholarly r&ume' of all finds along the Riviera up to 1952, 
see N. Lamboglia and F. Benoit, Scavi sottomarini in Liguria e in Provenza 
(Bordighera, 1953); the section by Lamboglia is in Italian, that by Benoit 
in French. L. Casson has summarized the sea diggers' activities for the 
general reader in "Sea-Digging," Archaeology 6 (1953), 221-228, and "More 
Sea-Digging," Archaeology 10 (1957) , 248-257. In 1957 work began on a very 
interesting wreck off Spargi in the Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and 
Sardinia; see the Italian weekly magazine L'Europeo, issues of 20 October 
1957 (pp. 27-36) and 29 June 1958 (pp. 14-33) Caligula's barges have been 
treated exhaustively by G. Ucelli in his Le Navi di Nemi (Rome, second 
edition, 1950). 

Chapter 14 
P. 198, "Strangers, who are you?" Odyssey 9. 252-254. 

260 Selected Bibliography 

P. 200, inscription from Amorgos. Dittenberger (see op. cit., References 

Chapter 8), No. 521. 
P. 200, inscription from Naxos. Dittenberger, op. cit., No. 520. 


The story of the pirates of Cilicia and their defeat is told by Plutarch in 
Chapter 24 of his Life of Pompey, and the account of Caesar's capture 
occurs in Chapter i of his Life of Caesar. H. A. Ormerod's Piracy in the 
Ancient World (Liverpool, 1924) is a careful, readable account illuminated 
by numerous parallels from the later ages of Mediterranean piracy. 

Chapter 15 

P. 211, "God willing . . ." H. C. Youtie and J. G. Winter, Michigan Papyri, 

Vol. 8 (Ann Arbor, 1951) , No. 468. 
P. 212, Apion's letter. A. S. Hunt and C. C. Edgar, Select Papyri, Vol. i 

(Loeb Classical Library, London, 1932), No. 112. 


Chester Starr's The Roman Imperial Navy 37 B.C.-A.D. 324 (Ithaca, 
1941) is a thorough study of the organization and personnel of the Roman 
navy under the emperors, and a review of the history of its operations. 
There is no single work devoted to the ships of this period. Most of the 
information available, particularly from the writings of the period, can 
be found in C. Torr's Ancient Ships (Cambridge), a storehouse of material 
and still the fundamental work on the ships of Greece and Rome, though 
published in 1895. L. Casson has treated the route and the ships used in 
the Alexandria-Rome grain trade in "The Isis and Her Voyage," Transac- 
tions of the American Philological Association 81 (1950), 43-56, and the 
size of ancient freighters in general in "The Size of Ancient Merchant 
Ships," Studi in onore di Aristide Calderini e Roberto Paribeni, Vol. i 
(Milan, 1956), 231-238. For the lugsail and the sprit-rig in the ancient 
world, see L. Casson's "The Sails of the Ancient Mariner," Archaeology 
7 (i954) 214-219* and "Fore-and-Aft Sails in the Ancient World," The 
Mariner's Mirror 42 (1956), 3-5, along with the remarks of R. Le Baron 
Bowen, Jr., in The Mariner's Mirror 43 (1957), 160-164. 

Selected Bibliography 261 

Chapter 16 

P. 223, "I built myself . . ," Petronius, Satyricon 76. 

P. 227, "The beautiful large . . ." M. Wheeler (see Bibliography below) , 

P. 227, Chinese records. W. Schoff (see Bibliography below) , 275-277. 

P. 228, "The ladies and their baubles . . ." Tacitus, Annals 3. 53. 
P. 229, "a little wine . . ." Periplus 17 (= Schoff, op. cit., 28-29) . 
P. 229, "the Sheikh and . . ." Periplus 24 (= Schoff, op. tit., 31). 
P. 230, "for the rajah . . ." Periplus 49 (= Schoff, op. cit., 42). 
P. 230, "at the new moon . . ." Periplus 46 (= Schoff, op. cit., 41). 
P. 231, "because of the enormous . . ." Periplus 56 (= Schoff, op. tit, 9 44-45). 
P. 231, "there is a great . . ." Periplus 64 (= Schoff, op. cit., 48). 
P. 235, "What a size . . ." Lucian, Navigium (The Ship) 5. 
P. 236, "If you are going . . ." Philo, Against Flaccus 5. 
P. 237, "Today the ships . . ." Seneca, Epistles 77. 

P. 237, Irenaeus' letter. Hunt and Edgar, Select Papyri, Vol. i (Loeb Classi- 
cal Library, Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1934), No. 113. 
P. 238, St. Paul's voyage. Acts 27. 


The prime source of information for the trade of the Roman Empire 
is the comprehensive geography written by Strabo who lived at the time 
of Augustus; the handiest edition is that in the Loeb Classical Library 
by H. L. Jones: The Geography of Strabo, 8 volumes (London, 1927-1936) . 
M. P. Charlesworth provides a useful survey in his Trade-Routes and Com- 
merce of the Roman Empire (Cambridge, second edition, 1926). The part 
that trade played in the social and economic life of the empire is covered 
by M. Rostovtzeff in his The Social and Economic History of the Roman 
Empire (Oxford, second edition revised by P. M. Fraser, 1957) . The ancient 
sources of our information are exhaustively treated in the monumental 
five-volume An Economic Survey of Ancient Rome, edited by T. Frank 
(Baltimore, 1933-1940) . 

The fundamental work on Rome's trade with India is E. Warmington's 
The Commerce Between the Roman Empire and India (Cambridge, 1928) . 
A brief up-to-date account can be found in Sir Mortimer Wheeler's 

262 Selected Bibliography 

Rome Beyond the Imperial Frontiers (London, 1954) , Chapters IX-XV. 
Gary and Warmington (see References, Chapter 9) discuss (73-85) the 
extent of western exploration in the Indian Ocean and the Far East. 
The best edition of the text of the Periplus is H. Frisk's Le periple de 
la Mer Ery three, Goteborgs Hogskolas Arsskrift 33. i (Goteborg, 1927). The 
best translation, accompanied by an exhaustive and illuminating com- 
mentary, is to be found in W. SchofFs The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea: 
Travel and Trade in the Indian Ocean by a Merchant of the First Century 
(New York and London, 1912). 

For the route of the grain ships and their size, see the articles "The Isis 
and Her Voyage" and "The Size of Ancient Merchant Ships" mentioned 
in the Bibliography to Chapter 15. 

Chapter 17 

M. Mercier's Le feu grSgeois, les feux de guerre depuis I'antiquite, la 
poudre a canon (Paris, 1952), treats Greek fire exhaustively, convincingly 
demonstrating the nature of this controversial material and the methods 
of employing it. Most of the information about the ships of the Byzantine 
fleets comes from a series of naval handbooks of the tenth century. No 
useful edition of these was available until A. Dain published his Nauma- 
chica (Paris, 1943). As a consequence the subject has not yet received exten- 
sive treatment. R. H. Dolley's "The Warships of the Later Roman Empire," 
Journal of Roman Studies 38 (1948), 47-53, is an excellent description of 
what the ships were like, and his "Naval Tactics in the Heyday of the 
Byzantine Thalassocracy," Atti dell' VIII Congresso di Studi Bizantini 
(Rome, 1953), Volume i, 324-339, provides a vivid account of what the 
sea fighting of the time was like. G. F. Hourani (see Bibliography to 
Chapter 12) includes (53-61) a brief sketch of the Arab navies. 

The latest and most complete work on the naval and trade relationships 
of the age is A. Lewis' Naval Power and Trade in the Mediterranean A.D. 
500-1100 (Princeton, 1951) . 

of Greek 
and Latin 
Nautical Terms 

Words in italics are Greek, those in roman are Latin. Precedence has 
been given to Greek terms because Roman naval terminology was largely 
made up of borrowings or adaptations of these (cf. pp. 211, 215) . 

Number(s) in parentheses after an entry refer(s) to page(s) in the text 
where further information may be found. 

acatus. See akatos 

adminiculum. See kamax 

akateion, "boat" mast or sail; small reserve mast and sail used on galleys (97) 

akatos (= acatus) , boat 

akrostolion, ornament at prow or stern (85) 

akroterion, synonym of akrostolion 

anakrousis (cf. inhibere), backing water (100) 

ancora. See ankyra 

ancorale. See ankyreion 

ankoina f forestay (?) (98) 

ankyra (= ancora) , anchor (98, 197) 

ankyra hiera, sheet anchor (literally "holy anchor") 

ankyreion (= ancorale), anchor cable (98) 

antennae. See keraiai 

anterides, struts supporting the outrigger (92; see PL 8b) 

antiproiros, "prow to prow" (of ramming) (148) 

antleterion (=sentinaculum), bucket for bailing the bilge 

antlia, antlos (=sentina), bilge 

apertus. See aphraktos 

264 Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 

aphlaston (=aplustre), stern ornament (85; see PI. 50) 

aphraktos (=apertus), (galley) with open sides (85, 99) 

aplustre. See aphlaston 

apobathra (=pons), gangplank (usually in the form of a ladder) (87, 219; 

see PI. 7a) 

apogaion, apogeion (=ora), mooring line (98) 
architekton, naval architect 
artemon, bowspritsail (146) 

askoma, leather bag closing in an oarport (93; see PL loa) 
auchen, loom of the steering oar 
auletes, piper who gave the time to the rowers. See also trieraules (95) 

baris, type of boat used on the Nile 
bathra, synonym of apobathra 
biremis, two-banked galley (213-214) 

carina. See tropis 

celoces. See keletes 

cercurus. See kerkouros 

ceruchus. See kerouchos 

chalinos; backstay (?) (98) 

cheir sidera (=manus ferrea), grapnel (literally "iron hand") (106) 

cheirosiphon, hand-held tube for launching Greek fire (243) 

chelysma, false keel 

cheniskos, goose-headed device ornamenting the stern of a merchantman 


davus. See oiax 

codicarius, river boatman (225) 
constratum. See katastroma 
constrains. See kataphraktos 
contus. See kontos 
corvus, boarding bridge (161) 

dekeres, a "ten" (144) 

delphines, lead weights hoisted to the yardarms of merchantmen to be 

dropped on an enemy's deck 
diaita, cabin (216) 

diekplous, diecplus, a type of naval maneuver (101) 
dikrotos, two-banked 
dodekeres, a "twelve" (144) 
do/on, small reserve mast and sail used on galleys; perhaps the same as 


Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 265 

dromon, Byzantine galley (243) 

dryochoi, frames for supporting a ship while under construction 

eikoseres, a "twenty" (145) 

eikosoros, twenty-oared galley; also a merchantman carrying auxiliary oars 


elaiochreistes, oiler (154) 

embolos (=rostrum), ram (84, 99; see Pis. 3-8, 10) 
enneres, a "nine" (144) 
epholkion, ship's boat towed astern (220) 
epibatai (=milites classici), marines (95, 160-162) 
epibathra, synonym of apobathra 
epigyon, synonym of apogaion 

epikrion, yard (in Homer; the later term was keraiai) (38) 
epiplous, officer substituting for trierarch as commander of a galley (148, 

episemon, device carved or painted on a ship. See also parasemon and 

semeion (217) 

epitonos, backstay (in Homer; the later term was perhaps chalinos) (38) 
epotides, catheads (105) 
eunai, stone anchors (in Homer) 

faber navalis. See naupegos (225) 
forus, deck 

gaulos, type of Phoenician merchantman having a roomy, rounded hull 
gerulus, stevedore (226) 
gomphos, treenail (39) 
gubernaculum. See pedalion 
gubernator, helmsman 

hapax, catapult-grapnel (207) 

hekkaidekeres, a "sixteen" (144) 

hemiolia, type of pirate craft (86) 

hendekeres, an "eleven" (144) 

hepteres, a "seven" (144) 

herma (=saburra), ballast (99) 

hexeres, a "six" (144) 

himantes, halyards (?) (98) 

hippagogos, hippegos, trireme converted to cavalry transport (98, 102) 

histion, histia (=velum), sail (38, 87, 98) 

histodoke, mast crutch (in Homer) (38) 

266 Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 

histopede, mast wedge (in early writers; the later term was parastatai) (38) 

kistos (=malus), mast (38, 39) 

hyperai, braces (38, 39, 98; see PI. 5c) 

hyperesia, rowing complement 

hyperesion, cushion for rower's bench 

hypozomata, girding cables (99) 

iatros (=medicus), (ship's) doctor (154) 
ikria, partial decks at bow and stern (38, 39) 
inhibere (cf. anakrousis), to back water 
insigne. See semeion 

kaloi, kalos, kalodia, brails (38, 39, 87, 98; see PL 7a) 

kamax (=adminiculum), tiller, horizontal bar socketed into the handle 

of the steering oar. See oiax (218) 
karchesion, mast truck 
katapeireteria, lead line (220) 

katapeltaphetes, catapult operator, artilleryman (155) 
katapeltesy catapult (147) 
kataphraktos (=tectus, constratus), (galley) protected by decking above 

and screens along the sides (99) 
katastroma (=constratum) , fighting deck of a galley, main deck of a 

merchantman (84) 
keletes, keletia (=celoces) , swift galleys reckoned among the small craft 

of a fleet 

keleustes, officer in charge of rowing personnel (95) 
keraiai (= antennae) , yard 
kerkouros (=cercurus), swift vessel, of no great size, driven by sail and 

oar; used as fast merchantman as well as auxiliary in the fleets 
kerouchos (=ceruchus), lift, line from mast truck to yardann (generally in 

the plural, kerouchot) 

kleis, tholepin (in Homer; the later term was skalmos) (38, 85) 
klimax, klimakis (=scala), landing ladder (87; see PI. 7a) 
kontos (=contus), pole, used for punting or fending off (37) 
kop e (=remus), oar 

kopeter, leather oar thong. See also tropos, tropoter (38) 
kopeus (=remex), oarsman 
kopodeteSy oar-thong man (155) 

krikoi, rings sewed to the sail as fairleads for the brails (218) 
kybernetes (=magister) , executive officer of a galley, captain of a merchant- 
man (94-95, 127) 

Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 267 

lampter (= lumen) , ship's light 

lembos, boat, often a ship's boat; from the second century B.C. on, applied 

to the ships used by Illyrian pirates and later adopted as naval units 


lenuncularius, bargeman (225) 

Liburna, Liburnian (light Roman galley) (201, 213) 
lintrarius, boatman (225) 
lithophoroi, "stone carrying/' term used of yards fitted to carry weights 

at the arms which could be dropped on an enemy; cf. delphines 
longa navis, galley (literally "long ship") 
lumen. See lampter 
lusoriae, light Roman galleys used on the frontier rivers 

magister, captain of a merchantman; cf. kybernetes 
malus. See histos 
manus ferrea. See cheir sidera 
manganon, block; cf. trochileia 
medicus. See iatros 
megalai keraiai, main yard (97) 
megas histion, mainsail (97) 
megas histos, mainmast (97) 
mesodme, mast step (38) 
milites classici. See epibatai 
miltos, ruddle (used in ship's paint) (36, 124) 
monokrotos, single-banked 

myoparon, small fast fighting galleys used by pirates or among the small 
craft of war fleets 

nauarchis (=praetoria navis), flagship (162) 

nauarchos, admiral (in Greek navies) ; cf. praefectus classis 

naukleros (=navicularius), shipowner (114) 

naumachia, mock sea battle (210) 

naupegos (=faber navalis), shipwright (154) 

navarchus, squadron commander (in Roman navy) (211) 

navicularius. See naukleros 

nedrion, shipyard 

neosoikos, slip, ship shed (93) 

oiax (=clavus), helm, tiller; cf. kamax, plektron 
oieion, helm (in Homer) (38) 
okteres, an "eight" (144) 
ora. See apogaion 

268 Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 

palma (pteryx) t oar blade (literally "palm of the hand") 

paraseiron (=supparum), topsail (174, 218) 

parasemon, device carved or painted on a ship. See also episemon and 


parastatai, mast wedges; cf. histopede (97) 
parexeiresia, outrigger (92) 
parados, gangway (99) 

pedalion (=gubernaculum) , steering oar (38, 85; see Pis. 4-7) 
pedaliouchos, helmsman (154) 
peisma, cable (98) 
pentekaidekeres, a "fifteen" (144) 
pentekontarchos, junior officer of a galley (95, 154) 
pentekonteros, penteconter, a fifty-oared galley (37, 59, 81, 85) 
penteres (=quinqueremis), quinquereme (125, 126, 144) 
periagogeus, windlass or capstan; cf. stropheion (235) 
perineoi, spare oars carried aboard a galley (94) 

periplous, periplus, a type of nautical maneuver (101); a "coast pilot" (127) 
pes. See p OILS 

pharos, lighthouse (180, 225) 
phaselos, a type of boat for passengers or freight, sometimes large enough 

to be driven by sail alone, sometimes small and driven by sails and 


phellos, cork, used as floats or buoys 
pissa (=pix), pitch (36, 217) 
pix. See pissa 
plektron, tiller; cf. oiax 
pons. See apobathra 
porthmeion, ferry 
porthmeus, ferryman (225) 

pous, podes (=pes, pedes), sheet, sheets (38, 39, 98; see Pis. 5c, 12, i3a) 
praefectus classis, admiral (in Roman navy); cf. nauarchos (209) 
praetoria navis. See nauarchis (209) 
pristis, light fast warship reckoned among the small craft of a fleet; cf, 

lembos. The word means literally "shark" 
proembolion, auxiliary spur set above the main ram (99) 
propugnaculum. See pyrgos 
prdra, prow 

proretes, proreus, bow officer of a galley (95, 154) 
protonos, forestay; cf. ankoina (38) 
prymna, prymne (=puppis), stern 
prymnesia, stern cables (98) 
pteryx (=palma), oar blade (literally "wing") 

Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 269 

puppis. See prymna 

pyr automaton, Greek fire (literally "self-igniting fire") (242) 

pyr hygron, Greek fire (literally "liquid fire") (242) 

pyr thalassion, Greek fire (literally "sea-fire") (242) 

pyrgos (=propugnaculum, turns), turret (148) 

quadriremis. See tetreres 
quinqueremis. See penteres 

remex. See kopeus 
remus. See kope 
restiones, riggers (226) 
rostrum. See embolos 

saburra, ballast (literally "sand"); cf. herma 

saburrarius, ballast handler (literally "sandman") (226) 

scala. See klimax 

scapharius, boatman (225) 

semeion (=insigne) , device carved or painted on a ship; cf. episemon and 

parasemon. Also a flag, often used for signaling 
sentina. See antlia 
sentinaculum. See anile terion 
siphon, tube for shooting Greek fire (243) 
skalmos, tholepin. See also kleis (93) 
skaphe, skiff 

skene, cabin, shelter cabin (213) 
stamines (=statumina) , ribs 
statumina. See stamines 
steira, cutwater 

stropheion, windlass; cf. periagogeus 
stuppator, caulker (217, 225) 

stylis, ensign consisting of a pole, crossbar and streamer, carried on the stern 
supparum. See paraseiron 

tarsos, oarage 

tectus. See kataphraktos 

tessarakonteres, Ptolemy IV's great "forty" (145) 

tetreres (= quadriremis), quadrireme (125, 126, 144, 152) 

thalamegos, boat with a cabin used on the Nile. Ptolemy IV's houseboat 

was an elephantine version of the type (174) 
thalamia, oarport for the thalamite oar (93) 
thalamios, thalamite, oarsman in the lowest bank of a galley (93, 145) 

270 Glossary of Greek and Latin Nautical Terms 

thranites, thranite, oarsman in the top bank of a galley (93, 145) 

transtrum. See zygon 

treisk&idekeres, a "thirteen" (144) 

triakonteres, a "thirty" (145) 

triakontoros, triacontor, a thirty-oared galley (85, 102) 

triarmenos, having three masts or sails (174; see PL nb) 

triemiolia, trireme specially adapted for chasing pirates (152) 

trierarchos, trierarch, captain of a galley (95, 148, 211) 

trieraules t synonym of auletes 

trier es (=triremis), trireme (92) 

trikrotos, three-banked 

triremis. See trieres 

trochileia, block; cf. manganon 

tropis (=carina) , keel 

tropos, tropoter, leather thong fastened to an oar and looped about the 

tholepin; cf kopeter 
turris. See pyrgos 

urinator, diver (226) 
velum. See histion 

zeugle, zeukteria, fitting to hold the steering oar in place (218) 

zoster, waling piece (see PL 12) 

zygios, zygite, oarsman in the middle bank of a three-banked ship (93, 145) 

zygon , zygos (= transtrum) , thwart, rower's bench 


Abdera 76 

Abdi-Ashirta 30 

Achaeans 32 

Achilles 34 

Actium 208, 213 

Adalia, Gulf of 169 

Admirals: see warships, personnel 

Adriatic 24, 125, 166, 168, 198, 201, 

Aea 58, 59, 61, 63 

Aeetes 58, 59, 60 

Aegates Islands 165 

Aegean 20, 57, 59, 61, 70, 72, 78, 96, 
107, 112, 115, 128, 142, 150, 151, 
i53> !76, 181, 191, 224, 240 

Aegina 112 

Aegospotami 106 

Aeneas 68 

Afghanistan 179, 230 

Africa 9, 21, 69, 71, 75, 79* 80, 129, 
131-136, 159, 163, 164, 165, 166, 187, 
216, 224, 226, 229, 232, 233, 234, 
239, 241 


Africa, circumnavigation of 129-136, 


Agamemnon 24, 34, 35, 36 
Agrippa (admiral) 207, 208 
Agrippa (Prince of Judaea) 236 
Ajax 37 
Akaiwasha 32 
Alaric 228 
Alasia 56 

Albenga 190, 191, 194, 195, 197 
Alexander (explorer) 232 
Alexander the Great 113, 114, 127, 

141, 142, 143, 168, 173 
Alexandria 142, 143, 173, 174, 175, 178, 

179-180, 181, 183, 184, 186, 187, 189, 

210, 211, 225, 226, 234, 235, 236, 

*37> *38, 239, 245 
Alexidamus 153-154 
Algeria 181 
Algiers 72 
Alphabet 70 
Alps 166 
Altar: see ships 



Amber: see trade 

Amenemhet II 21 

Amenhotep III 17, 29 

Amon 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 

55> 56 

Amorgos 200 
Amphibious operations 34, 102, 163, 

Amphorae 190, 191, 192, 193, 194, 219, 


Amulets: see trade 
Amurri 30 
Anaximander 77 
Anchor: see ships 
Androdes 118 
Animals: see trade 
Annam 228, 232 
annona 233 
Antheor 195 
Anticythera 189 
Antigonus Gonatas 145, 146, 149, 150, 

151, 156, 167 
Antigonus the One-Eyed 141, 143, 144, 

146, 148, 151 

Antioch 142, 143, 179, 182 
Antiochus III 168, 169, 170, 172 
Antipater (epiplous) 148 
Antisthenes 108 
Antony 145, 207, 208 
Aphract 99, 154 
Apion 212 
Apollodorus 118-119 
Apollodotus 148 
Apollonius 148, 177 
Arabia 8, 9, 16, 67, 69, 142, 178, 179, 

182, 185, 224, 228, 229, 232 
Arabs 128, 178, 179, 181, 184, 186, 

Archaeological remains 3, 4, 8, 20, 21, 

23. 24, 35, 57, 67, 76, 79, 80, 180, 

184, 189-197, 223, 231 
Archestratus 108 
Archimedes 161 
Arginusae Islands 101 
Argo 58, 59, 60, 62, 63, 64 
Argonauts 58-65, 76 
Armor: see ships 
Art: see trade 
Artemisium 90 

Artemo 118-119 

Artemon: see ships 

Artillery: see ships 

Arvad 30 

Assyria 86 

Astrolabe 189 

Atargatis 184 

Athens 20, 80, 88, 89-107, 108-127, ^8, 
142, 148, 151, 153, 170, 174, 175, 
176, 181, 182, 183, 184, 189, 190, 
198. *99 216, 224, 226, 235, 236 

Atlantic Ocean 71, 72, 81, 82, 128- 
140, 187 

Augustus 206, 207, 208, 210, 213, 223, 
227, 228, 231, 233, 235 

Azov, Sea of 64 

Babylon 141, 143, 179 

Babylonians 5 

Backing water 91, 100, 106 

Baghdad 179 

Bahrein 8 

Bakshish 229, 230 

Balearic Islands 202 

Ballast: see ships 

Baltic Sea 22, 139 

Bankers and banking 9, 109, 114, 116, 

117, 118, 120, 173, 180, 181, 183, 


Barbary pirates 44, 199 
Barges 225, 237 
Barter 68, 69, 80, 231 
Beder 48, 49 
Beirut 5, 30, 182, 184, 185 
Belerium 138 
Bengal, Bay of 232 
Benoit, Fernand 192, 193 
Berbers 134 
Berenice 229 
Biscay, Bay of 138 
Bissagos Bay 136 
Black Sea 59, 61, 63, 64, 65, 73, 76, 

77, 78, 81, 88, 111, 115, 118-119, 

120, 123, 128, 176, 181, 210, 240, 

Blockade, naval 30* 102, 113, 153, 159, 

165, 170-171, 206 
Boat pole: see ships 
"Boat sail" 97 



Boatswain: see warships, personnel 

Bombay 230 

Bonifacio, Strait of 195 

Borysthenes River 118 

Bosporus 59, 61, 63, 76, 77, 78, no, 

113, 124, 151*245 
Bosporus (in the Crimea) 118 
Bow-patches: see ships 
Britain 137, 138, 139, 182 
Brittany 3, 137, 138, 139 
Broach 230 

Bronze: see trade 

Brutus 206, 207 

Burgundy 223 

Burma 232 

Bushmen 133 

Business methods 8-9, 68-69, lll > 112 

114, 116-120, 174, 181, 226, 228 
Byblus 5, 17, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 45, 47, 

49> 5* 57 

Byzantine Empire 241-246 
Byzantium 78, no, 113, 114, 151, 239 

Cabins: see ships 

Cables: see ships 

Cadiz 71, 88, 128, 138 

Caesar 200, 203, 206, 207, 208, 226 

Cairo 215 

Calicut 245 

Caligula 196, 197, 215, 217, 236 

Callinicus 241, 242 

Camarina 164, 165 

Cameroon, Mt. 136 

Cameroons 136 

Canaan 67 

Canals 10, 80, 129, 178, 225, 226, 229 

Canary Islands 131 

Cannes 195 

Cantium 138 

Canton 232 

Cape: see under the particular name 

Capri 237 

Captain: see warships, personnel 

Caravan trade 67, 70, 77, 142, 178, 
179, 182, 183, 184, 185, 187, 188 

Carmel, Mt. 33, 48 

Carpenter, ship's: see warships, per- 

Carpets: see trade 

Carrara 226 
Cartagena 197 

Carthage 68, 72, 82, 83, 112, 133, 134, 
135* 136, 138, 157-166, 167, 172, 176, 
182, 188, 224, 226 

Carthaginians 68, 79, 82, 83, 88, 125, 
128, 133-136, 138, 139, 157-166, 173 
Cartography 77, 137, 139, 175 
Carystus 118 
Cassius 206, 207 
Cataphract 99, 154 
Catapultists: see warships, personnel 
Catapults: see ships 
Catapults (land weapons) 125 
Caulking 217, 225 
Ceos 124 
Cephallenia 117 
Cerne 134, 135, 136 
Ceylon 8, 227 
Chalcis 73 
Chank: see trade 
Chariots: see trade 
Chartering 109, 114, 119 
Charts: see maps 
Cheese: see trade 
China 224, 227, 228, 230, 231, 232 
Chios 112, 167 
Chretes 134 
Cilicia 201-205 
Cinnamon: see trade 
Circe 63 

Circuit of the Earth 77 
Cissus 169 

Claudius 225, 227, 235, 236 
Cleomenes 1 14 
Cleopatra 143 
Cnidus 238 
Cnossos 20 

"Coast pilots" 127, 136, 175, 220, 229 
Cochin-China 232 
Coinage 80, 112, 113, 231 
Colaeus 80, 81, 238 
Colchis 59, 63 

Carthaginian 72-73, 133-136 

Greek 73-82 

Phoenician 67-72 
Colonization, reason for 71, 73 
Colony, founding a 73-76 



Color of boats: see ship 

Colossus of Rhodes 175, 181 

Columbus 59, 129, 139, 175 

Compass 220, 246 

Conon 107 

Constantine 227, 239, 240, 245 

Constantinople 239, 241, 245, 246 

Contracts, maritime 118-119, 173 

Convoy duty 102, 124, 126, 133, 168 

Copper: see trade 

Coracesium 201, 205 

Coral: see trade 

Corinth 60, 76, 78, 79, 80, 81, 83, 87, 

92, 99, 103, 112, 150, 226 
Corinth, Gulf of 78, 103, 208 
Corinth, Isthmus of 79-80 
Cornwall 71, 128, 138, 139 
Corsica 82, 83, 191, 209, 241 
torvus: see ships 
Cos 150, 155 
Cosmetics: see trade 
Cottonara 231 
Courts, maritime 111, 121 
Cousteau, Jacques-Ives 191, 192, 193 
Cranganore 230 
Cretans: see Minoans 
Crete 3, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 
34, 41, 43, 60, 70, 72, 81, 155, 167, 
199, 201, 234, 238 
Crews: see warships, personnel 
Crews, training of 160, 207 
Crimea 64, 76, 115, 118 

Agulhas 131 

Dardanelles 71, 77 

Gulf of Guinea 131, 133 

Indian Ocean 131 

Mozambique 131 

North African 71, 131 

Red Sea 131 

West Africa 131, 133 
Customs: see tariffs 
Cyclops 37, 198 
Cyprus 5, 16, 17, 22, 24, 25, 30, 31, 45, 

56, 70, 72, 115, 149, 176 
Gyrene 80 
Cyzicus 186, 241 

da Gama, Vasco 133, 245 

Danube River 210, 214 

Dardenelles 33, 59, 76, 77, 90, 106, 

112, 124, 170, 171, 2O8, 245 

Dates: see trade 

Deck hands: see warships, personnel 
Decks: see ships 
Deigma in 
Deir-el-Bahari 1 1 

Delos 183, 184, 185, 187, 188, 202, 204 
Delphic Oracle 75, 78 
Demetrius, Besieger of Cities 143, 144, 
145, 146, 147, 149, 151, 153, 199, 208 
Demo 116 

Demosthenes 116, 117, 118, 120, 123 
Demyen 32 
Denmark 139 
Derna 80 
Dido 68, 72 
diecplus 101, 162, 170 
Diocletian 240 

Dionysius I 125, 126, 144, 161, 200 
Dispatch boats 102, 210, 237 
Diving 189-197 
Dnieper River 118 
Doctor, ship's: see warships, personnel 
Dor 48 

Double-ax 3, 20, 22 
Draa River 134 
Dromon: see warships 
Duilius 162, 163 
Dyed textiles: see trade 

Eastern Roman Empire: see Byzan- 
tine Empire 
Ecnomus 164 
Edom 70 

Arab 241, 245 

Pharaonic and Persian i, 2, 3, 4, 5, 
9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 24, 25, 
27> 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 42, 43, 45-57* 
60, 67, 70, 77, 79, 80, 81, 87, 90, 92, 
no, 112, 113, 114, 115, 129, 131, 
132, 146, 148 

Ptolemaic 142-150, 151, 152, 153, 156, 

166, 168, 174-180, 181, 182, 185-187 

Roman 211, 212, 224, 226, 227, 228, 

233 234* 236, 237, 239 
"Eight": see warships 


"Eighteen": see warships 

Elbe River 139 

"Eleven": see warships 

Eloth 70 

emporion in 

England 71 

English Channel 138, 139, 140, 210 

Ephesus 169, 170, 172, 179, 182, 226 

Eratosthenes 175 

Eridu 2 

Etesian Winds 115, 182 

Ethiopia 45, 129, 178 

Etruria: see Etruscans 

Etruscans 32, 78, 79, 82, 158, 194, 200 

Euboea 38, 190 

Eubulus no 

Eudamus 169, 170, 171 

Eudoxus 186-187 

Euneus 58 

Euphrates River 5, 179, 214 

Euxine 65 

Evans, Sir Arthur 20 

Executive officer: see warships, per- 

Exploration 58-65, 70-82, 128-140, 186- 
187, 232 

Ezion Geber 69-70 

Faience: see trade 

"Fifteen": see warships 

Figs: see trade 

Fire: see Greek fire 

Fire pots 152, 171-172 

Fire weapons: see ships 

First lieutenant: see warships, person- 

First Punic War 159-166, 222 

Fish: see trade 

Flagships 149, 155, 162, 208, 210 

Flame-thrower 242-243, 244, 246 

Flax: see trade 

Fleets, size of: see navies, size of 

Fore-and-aft rig 219, 244 

"Forty": see warships 

France 81, 82, 138, i39 *4P> 22 3 * 2 4> 

Frankincense: see trade 

Fuller's earth: see trade 

Furniture: see trade 

Gadir (see also Cadiz) 71 

Gaiseric 241 

Galley: see warship 

Ganges River 231 

Garum (fish sauce) : see trade 

Gaul 73 

Gaza 178, 182 

Gems: see trade 

Genoa 246 

Geography, science of 77, 88, 137, 139, 

Gibraltar, Strait of 61, 63, 71, 81, 82, 

88, 128, 129, 131, 132, 133, 134* i3 6 > 
138, 140, 172, 175, 205, 208, 224 

Ginger: see trade 

Girding cables: see ships 

Glass and glassware: see trade 

Gold and goldware: see trade 

Golden Fleece 58, 59, 61, 64 

Good Hope, Cape of 131 

Gorillas 135, 136 

Goths 240 

Grain: see trade 

Grand Conglou6 192, 193, 194* 195 

Grappling 100-101, 106, 148, 161, 162, 

Greece (see also under names of Greek 
cities) 22, 23, 24, 25, 31, 34 57 5 8 > 
&3> 72> 73> 78, 79 H^ *4*. H3> *5 
151. i55> 168, 170, 187, 189, 191, 201, 
206, 224, 226 

Greek fire 242 

Gregale 238 

Guardafui, Cape 131 

Guinea 132, 136 

Guinea, Gulf of 131, 133, 136 

Gulf: see under the particular name 

Gulf Stream 139 

Hadad 184 

Hadramaut 9, 178, 184 

Halicarnassus 148 

Hannibal 166, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171 

Hannibal (admiral in First Punic War) 


Hanno 133-136, 138 
Hanoi 232 
Harpies 59, 62 
Hatshepsut 11, 13, 16, 17, 25 



Hecataeus 77 

Hector 36 

Hegestratus 116-118 

Heligoland 139 

Heliopolis 215 

Hellenistic Age 141, 173 

Helmsman: see warships, personnel 

Hemiolia: see warships 

Hemp: see trade 

Henu 10 

Heraclea 123, 124 

Heracleides 122-124 

Heracleion 20 

Heracles 62 

Herihor 47, 48, 49, 53 

Hermaeum, Cape 164 

Herne Island 134 

Herodotus 68, 80, 129, 131, 132 

Hesperides 61 

Hides: see trade 

Hippalus 187 

Hippocrates 155 

Hiram 69-70 

Hittites 62 

Homer 24, 26, 32, 34, 36, 37, 39, 42, 

45> 60, 63, 64, 83, 84, 88, 129, 146, 

198, 201 

Honey: see trade 
horrea piperaria 228 
Houseboats 174, 196-197, 217 
Hull, construction of: see ships 
Hull, sheathing: see ships 

Ibiza 71, 81 

Iceland 139 

Ikhnaton 24, 28, 29, 30, 32 

Illyria (see also Jugoslavia) 167, 199, 


Incense: see trade 
India 8, 67, 69, 70, 77, 128, 142, 175, 

178, 179, 182, 185, 186, 187, 224, 

227, 228, 229-232, 245 

Indian Ocean 3, 5, 8, 128, 131, 140, 227, 

228, 229-232, 245 
Indians 179, 186, 187, 245 
Indus River 238, 230 
Insurance 114-115 

lolcus 58, 60, 61, 63 
Iran 179, 230 

Ireland 137, 138, 140 

Iron: see trade 

Ischia 79, 81 

Istanbul 73, 78 

Italy 24, 73, 74, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 82, 
112, 125, 157, 158, 160, 164, 166, 176, 
182, 183, 185, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 

200, 201, 203, 208, 209, 212, 223, 

226, 236, 238, 246 

Ithaca 43 
Ivory: see trade 

Jars: see amphorae 

Jason 58-65, 76, 128 

Java 232 

Jewelry: see gems 

Jews 184 

Josep hus 236 

Jugoslavia 167, 199, 201, 209, 213 

Justinian 245 

Kakulima, Mt. 136 
Karachi 228 
Kenamon 17, 18, 22 
Kent 138 
Kertsch no 
Khaemwaset 55 

Labyrinth 20 

Ladders, landing: see ships 

Lampsacus 106 

Land's End 138 

Lateen sail 219, 244 

Latitude 134, 137, 175 

Law, maritime 181, 184 

Lead: see trade 

Lead line: see ship* 

Lebanon 4, 5, 28, 47-57, 60, 67, 69, 


Lembi: see warships 
Lesbos 38 

Liburnian: see warships 
Libya 21, 32, 45, 63, 112 
Libyphoenicians 133 
Lighthouses 175, 180, 225 
Lilybaeum 165 
Lion, Gulf of 81 
Liparite: see trade 



Loans, maritime 9, 109, 114-115, 116, 

118, 120, 173 
Longitude 134, 175 
Lucian 235 
Lugsail 219 
Luxuries: see trade 
Lycia 30, 32, 118 
Lycurgus no 

Macedon 21, 124, 142-150, 151, 153, 

167-168, 172, 176, 185, 201 
Macedonian Wars 167-168, 172 
Mahdia 190, 191, 195, i97> 216, 217 
Majorca 81 
Makkan 8 
Malabar 229, 230 
Malabathrum: see trade 
Malacca, Strait of 232 
Malaga 72, 82 
Malay 231, 232 
Malea, Cape 155, 156, 201 
Malta 72, 81, 234, 239 
Maps 77, 88, 175, 220 
Marcus Aurelius 228 
Marine railway 80 
Marines: see warships, personnel 
Mark Antony: see Antony 
Marmora, Sea of 78, 186, 241 
Maroneia 125 

Marseilles 75, 81, no, 114, 116, 117, 
120, 128, 137, 139, 173, 188, 192, 193, 
i94 i95 *97 204 
Massilia (see also Marseilles) Si 
Meat: see trade 
Mecca 245 
Medea 58, 59, 60 
Medina 245 
Megara 74, 78 
Mekmel 49 
Meltem 115 
Memphis 17 
Mende 118, 119 
Menelaus 45 
Mengebet 47, 50 
Mentuhotep III 10 
Mercenaries, naval 98 
Merchant marine 

Rhodian 151, 172, 180, 181, 183 

Roman 236, 245 


Early and Classical Greece 87, 126 

Hellenistic Age 174 

Roman Imperial Period 214-222 

Roman Republican Period 193-195 
Merchantmen, driven by sail and oar 


Merlin, Alfred 190 
Mesopotamia 2, 3, 5, 8, 142, 179, 227 
Messina 158 
Messina, Strait of 73, 79, 81, 158, 159, 

160, 234 

Metals and metalware: see trade 
Metics 120, 121 
Metropolis 76 
Miletus 76, 77, 78, 81, 112, 203, 224, 


Milim 30 
Minaeans 184 
Minoans 21-24, 28, 31, 35, 41, 61, 64, 

70, 78, 216 
Minorca 81 
Minos 20, 21, 22, 31 
Minotaur 20, 21 
Misenum 209, 210, 211, 212, 213 
Mithridates VI 188, 202 
Mizzen: see ships 
Moneychanging 108, 109, 112 
Monsoon 131, 185-186, 187, 228-229, 


Monte Testaccio 234 
Morocco 81, 131, 132, 134, 187 
Mount: see under the particular name 
Murex 67 

Mycenae 24, 34, 57, 60 
Mycenaean Age 24, 44, 72 
Mycenaeans 24-26, 31, 41, 61, 66-67, 

70, 78 
Mylae 162 
Myonnesus, Cape 171 
Myos Hormos 228, 229 
Myra 238 
Myrrh: see trade 

Nabataeans 178, 184 

Naphtha 242-244 

Naples 78, 79, 81, 185, 193, 207, 209 

Narbonne 226 

Nard: see trade 


Naulochus 208 
Nausicrates 118 

Naval bases, Roman Imperial 209-210 
Naval tactics: see warships, tactics 

composition of 101-102, 146-147, 152, 
159, 166, 167, 169, 172, 202, 209, 
213, 216, 243 

size of 87, go, 101, 103, 104-105, 106, 
124, 126, 127, 143, 146-147, 149, 152, 
153. 156, 159, 162, 163, 164, 165, 
166, 168, 169, 171, 172, 201, 202, 
206, 207, 208, 209 

Navigating officer: see warships, per- 
Navigation 38, 77, 127, 137, 139, 175, 

185-186, 228, 230, 234, 236, 245 

Arab 241, 244 
Athenian 89-107, 112, 124, 125-126, 

i43> 162 

Byzantine 241-246 
Carthaginian 87, 157-166 
Corinthian 79, 99, 103, 105 
Egyptian 14-16, 27, 33 
Hellenistic 141-156 
Macedonian 146-150, 151, 156, 167- 

168, 172 
Phocaean 87 
Phoenician 86, 90, 143 
Ptolemaic 146-150, 151, 156, 175 
Rhodian 156-156, 168, 180, 202 
Roman Imperial 205, 207, 209-214, 

240, 241, 243 

Roman Republican 157-172, 202 
Seleucid 168-172, 202 
Spartan 103, 106 
Syracusan 105-106, 160, 161 
Syrian: see navy, Seleucid 
Naxos 200 

Necho 129, 131, 133, 187 
Negeb 69 

Negroes 18, 132-133, 135 
Nemi, Lake 196 
Nero 80, 215, 226, 231 
Nestor 34, 38 

Nesubanebded 47, 49, 52, 54 
New Testament: see Paul 
Nice 82 

Nike of Samothrace 150 

Nile River 10, 14, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 70, 

88, 90, 92, 146, 174, 178, 180, 214, 

215, 229, 245 
"Nine": see warships 
North Sea 63, 137, 139 
"Northerners of the Isles" 31, 32, 42 
Norway 139 
Nubia 16 
Nuts: see trade 

Oars: see ships 

Oars, steering: see ships 

"Oar-thong man": see warships, per- 

Obelisks 14, 215, 225 

Octavian: see Augustus 

Odysseus 34, 37, 39, 43, 44, 46, 63, 64, 
68, 73, 198 

Oecist 74-76 

Officers: see warships, personnel 

Oil: see trade 

Oil, crude 242 

Oiler: see warships, personnel 

Old Testament 33, 69-70 

Olive oil: see trade 

Oman 8 

"One-and-a-half": see warships 

Ophir 70 

Oran 72 

Orca 138 

Orkney Islands 138 

Orpheus 62 

Ostia (see also Portus) 160, 203, 224, 
225-226, 234 

Outrigger: see ships 

Paint, ship's 217 

Palermo 72 

Palestine 2, 16, 21, 27, 32, 33, 236 

Palmas, Cape 131 

Pantelleria 72 

Papyrus: see trade 

Papyrus documents 46, 148, 173, 177, 

211, 237 
Paralus 102 
Parthia 230 

Pasion 108-110, 114, 120, 121 
Passenger service 236, 238, 239 


Paul (Apostle) 81, 238-239 

Pearls: see trade 

Peiraeus 108, 110-113, 114, 115, 116, 
117, 120, 122, 124, 125, 127, 174, 235 

Peleset 32, 33 

Pelias 59, 60 

Peloponnese 78 

Peloponnesian War 102-107, 1Q 8 113, 
124, 125, 170 

Penteconter: see warships 

Pepi 27 

Pepper: see trade 

Perfume: see trade 

Pergamum 167, 168, 172, 176, 185 

Periander 80 

Pericles no 

Periplus Marts Erythraei 229 

Perseus 172, 201 

Persia 74, 76, 82, 89, 90, 91, 92, 97, 
103, 112, 133, 141, 142, 245, 246 

Persian Gulf 2, 3, 5, 8, 69-70, 179, 229, 

Petra 178, 184 

Petronius 223 

Pharos 180 

Phaselis 118 

Philip, father of Alexander 113 

Philip V 156, 167, 168, 172, 199 

Philistines 32 

Phocaea 81, 82, 83, 97, 137 

Phoenicia 4, 5, 9, 16, 17, 18, 21, 24, 
25. 28, 30, 31, 32, 45, 69, 70, 72, 77, 
90, 143, 144, 169, 178, 185, 204 

Phoenicians 57, 66-72, 73, 80, 81, 82, 
84, 86, 87, 92, 99, 101, 120, 128, 129, 
131* i33 136* 153* ^S, 181, 184, 
187, 211, 215, 239 

Phormio (admiral) 103-104 

Phormio (businessman) no, 120, 121 

Pillars of Hercules 128, 131, 133, 134 

Pillows: see trade 

Pindar 63 

Piracy 10, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 42, 43-57, 
60, 66, 83, 86, 102, 115, 119, 124, 
125, 151, 152, 153, 155, 158, 167, 
178, 179, 183, 184, 186, 188, 198-205, 
209, 210, 228, 240, 241 

of Cilicia 201-205, 241 

of Crete 167, 199, 201 
in Greek literature 198-199 
of Illyria 167, 199, 201, 209, 213 
in navies 153, 167, 199, 201 
punishment of 200, 203-204, 205 
of the Red Sea 10, 178, 186, 228 
ships: see ships 
Tyrrhenian 158, 200, 201 

Pisa 246 

Pitch: see trade 

Plato 73 

Pliny the Elder 209, 216, 228, 231 

Plutarch 20 

Po River 88, 157 

Polybius 131 

Polycles 154 

Polyxenidas 168, 169, 171, 172 

Pompeii 209, 223 

Pompey 204-205, 206 

Pondicherry 231 

Pontus 118-119 

Port facilities 87, 111-112, 174, 175, 
179-180, 216, 224, 225-226, 237, 245 

Ports 10, 17, 24-25, 73, 77, 79, 87, 

105, 110-112, 113, 174, 177, 178, 

179, 181, 184, 188, 224, 225-226, 
229, 230, 231 

Portus 220, 225, 236, 237 

Pottery: see trade 

Pozzuoli 185, 188, 224, 234, 236, 237 

praefectus annonae 233 

Privateering 82-83, 1]1 5 *99 

Protus 116-118 

Prow ornament: see ships 

Ptolemy I 141, 143, 144, 145, H 6, 147, 

148, 149, 175, 176, 180, 208 
Ptolemy II 145, 146, 147, 148, 150, 175, 

176, 177, 180 
Ptolemy III 175, 176 
Ptolemy IV 145, 146, 174, 181, 196 
Ptolemy VII 186, 187 
Punic Wars 159-166, 172, 201 
Punt 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18 
Puteoli (see also Pozzuoli) 185 
Pylos 57 
Pytheas 128, 136-139 

Quadrireme: see warships 



Quinquereme: see warships 

Ram: see ships 

Ramming 100-101, 104, 148 

Ramses III 31, 32, 33, 41, 84 

Ramses XI 47 

"Raven": see ships, coruus 

Ravenna 209, 210, 211, 213 

Red Sea 2, 9, 10, 13, 129, 131, 146, 

i?3 *78, 179, 228, 229, 230, 245 
Reefing: see shortening sail 
Regillus 170, 171 
Reinforcing timbers: see ships 
Rekhmire 18, 20, 23, 24, 31 
Rhegium 73 
Rhine River 210 

Rhodes 22, 24, 70, 72, 79, 114, 115, 
150-156, 167, 168, 169-172, 174, 175, 
180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 191, 
199, 201, 202, 203, 204, 214, 234, 

anti-pirate patrols 201, 202 
earthquake at 181 
siege of 153 
Rhone River 73, 81 
Rib-Addi 29, 30 
Rigging: see ships 
Riviera, French-Italian 190, 191, 194, 

Rome (city) 156, 157, 167, 196, 203, 

204, 210, 216, 220, 223-239, 241 

grain supply 227, 233-239 
merchant marine 236, 245 
navy: see navy, Roman 
Rowing 37, 38, 62, 84-85, 93-94, 97, 

100-101, 126, 159 
Rubicon River 206 
Rudder 246 
Ruddle: see trade 

Russia 63, 64, 73, 106, 112, 113, 114, 
122, 124, 175, 181, 183, 245 

Saba 184 
Sabaeans 184 
Sabratha 226 
Sahara 132 
Sahure 14, 21, 27 
Sailcloth 175 

Sailing season 39, 63, 71, 76, 112, 114, 

115, Il6, 118, 121, 185-186, 220, 
228-229, 234, 235, 236-237, 238, 239 

Sails: see ships 

Sails, left ashore during battle 86, 97, 

107, 152; cf. 208, 244 
Saint-Tropez 226 
Salaminia 102 
Salamis 89, 90, 91, 99 
Salamis (on Cyprus) 122, 123, 149 
Samos 80, 81, 87, 132 
Samothrace 150 
Sardinia 71, 72, 81, 166, 191, 200, 209, 


Sataspes 132, 133, 136 
Savage, Thomas 136 
Scarabs: see trade 
Scione 118, 119 
Scylax the Younger 127, 136 
Scythia 73 

Sea: see under the particular name 
Sea battles 

Actium 145, 146, 208 

Aegates Islands 165 

Aegospotami 106, 107 

Amorgos 127 

Andros 150 

Arginusae 101 

Artemisium 90, 92, 101, 103 

Cape Hermaeum 164 

Chios 167 

Cissus 169 

Cos 150 

Ecnomus 164 

Mylae 162-163 

Myonnesus 171 

Naulochus 208 

Patras 103-104 

Salamis (on Cyprus) 149 

Salamis (in Greece) 90-92, 99, 100, 
102, 104, 107, 132 

Side 169-170 

Syracuse 105-106 

see also 31, 32, 82, 90-92, 105 
Sea battles, mock 210 
Sea raiders: see piracy 
Seals: see trade 
Second Punic War 166, 204 
Seleuceia (in Mesopotamia) 179 
Seleuceia (in Syria) 142, 143, 182, 210 



Seleucus I 143, 168 

Selinus 79 

Senate, of Rome 156, 159, 160, 163, 

164, 167, 168 
Senegal River 134, 135 
Senusret 10, 13 
Sestus 106 

"Seven": see warships 
Sextus Pompey 207, 208, 211 
Sheba 184 
Shekelesh 32 
Sherboro Sound 136 
Ship timber 39, 124, 144, 151, 176, 195, 

Ship board life 37, 38, 62, 96, 127, 

216-217, 236 
Shipbuilding 8, 39, 83, 87, 144, 150, 

151, i59 163, 164, 165, 225 
Ships: see also warships 

multibanked (see also warships, 

types) 144-150 
oarage of 36, 62, 81, 84, 85, 92-94, 

125, 144-146, 152-153, 213-214, 215, 

pirate 28, 37, 41, 86, 152, 187, 201, 

202, 218 
primitive 1-3 
profile of 41, 83-84, 85, 87, 216, 219, 


provisioning of 96-97, 102, 106 
Roman grain 235-236, 239, 245 
size of 15, 36, 37, 85, 86, 93-94, 126, 

144-145, 174, 176, 193, 194, 195, 196, 

215, 216, 235, 236, 243 
speed of 94, 100, 115, 127, 134, 138, 

152, 170, 220, 228-229, 234, 236, 

Ships, chronological and national types 

Arab 186 

Byzantine 243-246 

Egyptian i, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 27, 

41, 146 

Greek 26, 36-42, 83-87, 92-95, 125-126 
Hellenistic Age 144-146, 152-153, 

174, 213, 215 
Homeric 36-42, 146 
Illyrian 167 
Minoan 25, 41, 146 
Mycenaean 26, 41 

Ships, chronological and national types 


Phoenician 17, 25, 86 

Roman Republic and Imperial period 

193-195, 213-222 
Ships, equipment and parts of 

altar 219 

anchor 39, 98, 193, 195, 197, 235, 
238, 239 

armor 208, 213, 244 

artemon 146, 174, 213, 218, 219, 220, 


artillery 147, 242 
ballast 99, 217, 226 
boat pole 37, 104 
bow-patches 37 
cabins 213, 216, 217, 235 
cables 98 

catapults 147, 148, 207, 208, 242 
color 36, 218 

corvus 161, 162, 163, 164, 165, 166 
decks 37, 84, 86, 99, 146, 160, 243 
fire weapons 152, 171-172, 242-243, 


girding cables 15, 16, 98-99 
hulls, construction of i, 14-16, 195, 

197, 216, 217 

hulls, sheathing 195, 197, 217 
ladders, landing 17, 87, 219 
lead line 220, 238 
mizzen 146, 174, 218 
oars i, 15, 38, 85, 93-94, 145* 146, 

i52-i53 243 
oars, steering 38, 85, 154, 218, 236, 


outrigger 92-93, 99, 105, 243 
prow ornament 213, 214, 217, 235 
ram 84, 85, 99, 148, 216, 244 
reinforcing timbers 105, 148 
rigging 2, 15, 16, 38, 86, 87, 97, 98, 

146, 152-153, 174, 195, 214, 217, 

218-219, 244 
sails 2, 15, 16, 25, 38, 41, 86, 87, 97, 

98, 146, 152-153, 174* 218-219, 220, 

237 244 

ship's boat 117, 218, 220 
stern ornament 85, 145, 217, 235 
topsail 174, 218, 235, 237 
turrets 148, 244 



Shortening sail 38, 87, 98, 218, 219, 

Sicily 22, 25, 61, 64, 71, 72, 73, 76, 78, 
79, 80, 81, 82, 92, 110, 113, 114, 
115, 117, 125, 138, 142, 158, 159, 
162, 164, 165, 166, 175, 208, 224, 

*33 *34> 239 

Side 169, 202 

Sidon 25, 30, 45, 49, 52, 67, 69, 92, 
179, 182 

Sierra Leone 136 

Signaling 106, 220 

Silk: see trade 

Silver and silverware: see trade 

Simyra 29, 30 

Sinai 11 

"Six": see warships 

"Sixteen": see warships 

Skin diving: see underwater archae- 

Slaves (see also trade) 108, 109, no, 
120, 121, 211, 223 

Slaves, as crew members 95, 96, 211 

Slavs 211 

Smuggling in, 177 

Snefru 4, 5, 21, 67 

Solomon 69-70, 158 

Somaliland 9, 67, 178 

Sophocles 63 

Sostratus 180 

South China Sea 232 

South Vietnam 232 

Spain 3, 22, 63, 71, 72, 77, 81, 82, 128, 
137, 138, 140, 142, 166, 175, 181, 182, 
197, 202, 209, 223, 224, 226, 234, 

Sparta 74, 91, 102, 103, 104, 113, 125, 


Spartel, Cape 132 
Spice: see trade 
Spikenard: see trade 
Sponges: see trade 
Spritsail 219-222 
Squadrons of Roman Imperial Navy 

209-210, 211, 213, 228, 240 
Stern ornament: see ships 
Stone: see trade 
Stonehenge 3 

Story of the Shipwrecked Mariner 10- 


Strait: see under the particular name 
Sudan 18 
Sumatra 232 
Sumerians 5 
Susa 90 
Syracuse 24, 73, 75, 79, 92, 104, 105- 

106, 114, 117, 118, 120, 125, 142, 160, 

161, 176, 200, 234 
Syria 2, 16, 17, 18, 21, 24, 25, 28, 30, 

32, 47-57, 80, 112, 120, 142, 143, 

168-172, 177, 178, 184, 185, 187, 

188, 189, 211, 215, 223, 224, 239, 241, 

242, 246 

Syrian War 168-172 
Syros 41 

Tacking 115, 220-222, 234, 238 

Tactics: see warships, tactics 

Tanetamon 47, 52, 54 

Tanetnot 56 

Tanis 47, 50, 52 

Taranto 74, 158 

Tarentum 24, 74 

Tariffs 175, 176, 177, 183, 187 

Tartessus 71, 81 

Tell el-Amarna 24, 29, 31, 45 

Telmun 9 

"Ten": see warships 

Tenedos 38, 245 

Teos 74 

Teuta 199 

Textiles and garments: see trade 

Thalamite rowers: see warships, per 

Thales 77 
Thasos 125 

Thebes n, 29, 32, 47, 57 
Themistocles 90, 91, 97, 100, 101, 102, 

103, 104, 107, 146 
Theophrastus 178 
Theseus 20, 62 
Thieves' Harbor in, 120 
Third Punic War 172 
"Thirteenth": see warships 
"Thirty": see warships 



Thrace 46, 74, 76, 124, 150, 171, 187, 

Thranite rowers: see warships, per- 

Thucydides 20, 21, 31, 46 

Thule 138, 139 

Thutmose III 16, 18, 20, 27, 28, 29, 31 

Tiber River 145, 156, 157, 160, 215, 
224, 225, 234, 245 

Tiberius 228, 231 

Tigris River 5, 179, 214 

Timber: see trade 

Timebeater: see warships, personnel 

Tin: see trade 

Tin Isles 71 

Tjekers 32, 33, 48* 49> 5> 5 1 * 55> 5 6 > 57 

Tolls 81, 111, 151, 181, 182, 183, 229 

Topsail: see ships 

Tortoise shell: see trade 


of Aegina 112 

with Arabia (see also trade, Red Sea) 
178, 179, 182, 185-187, 228, 229-230, 


of Athens 80, 108-124 
Byzantine 245-246 
caravan: see caravan 
of Carthage 72, 82, 128, 158, 182 
with China 230-232 
of Corinth 79-80, 112 
of Delos 183-185, 188 
of Egypt, Pharaonic 4-26, 47-57, 128, 

of Egypt, Ptolemaic 175-180, 228, 

of Egypt, Roman 211, 212, 224, 220, 

227, 228, 233, 234, 236, 237, 239 
Etruscan 78-79, 158 
of Greece, early and classical 67, 70, 

73-82, 108-124 

of Greece, under the Romans 226 
Hellenistic 142, 173-188, 224 
with India 5-9, 69-70, 178-179, 182, 

185-187, 227, 228, 229-231, 232, 245 
Levantine 17, 18, 21, 22, 52, 67-69 
of Marseilles 137-139 
of Mesopotamia 5-9, 69-70 
of Miletus 77-78, 112 

Trade Continued 
Minoan 21-23 
Mycenaean 24-26 
Palestinian 69-70 
Persian Gulf 5-9, 69-70, 179 
Phoenician 69-72 
prehistoric 3 
Red Sea 9-14, 70, 173, 178, 179, 185, 


of Rhodes 151, 180-184, l8 5 
of the Roman Empire 223-239 
of the Roman Republic 158, 182- 

185, 187-188, 193, 194 
of South Italy 78-80, 158, 182-185, 

188, 193, 194, 226 
Trade, government in 121, 122, 124, 

*K- lf H> i79> 187, 233, 235 
Trade, objects of 
amber 22, 139 
amulets 79 

animals 13, 16, 112, 216, 229 
art 182, 183, 189, 190, 224, 226 
bronze 22, 71, 78 
carpets 112 
chank 8 
chariots 16, 17 
cheese 112, 176, 177 
cinnamon 179, 231 
copper 5, 8, 16, 17, 22, 25, 71, 176, 

224, 231 
coral 231 

cosmetics 13, 179, 224, 230, 231 
dates 112 

dyed textiles 67, 182 
faience 79 
figs 112, 176, 177 
fish 54, 77, 78, 111, 224, 226 
flax 112, 176 
frankincense 9, 178 
fuller's earth 224 
furniture 17, 77, 112 
garum (fish sauce) 226 
gems 8, 143, 178, 224, 230, 231 
ginger 179 
glass and glassware 182, 189, 224, 

230, 231 
gold and goldware 13, 16, 22, 54, 

61, 64, 69-70, 229 



Trade, objects of Continued 

grain 64, 69, 76, 78, 79, 80, 106, no, 
111, 112, 113, 115, 117, 118, 119, 
121, 122-124, 125, 126, 152, 166, 
175-176, 179, 180, 181, 182, 183, 
184, 194, 204, 208, 224, 226, 231, 

233-239> 2 45 
hemp 112 

hides 8, 13, 54, 57, 112, 226 
honey in, 176, 177, 224 
incense (see also myrrh, frankincense) 

9, 11, 13, 16, 69, 112, 173, 178, 

179, 229, 232 
iron 72, 76, 82, 176 
ivory 8, 13, 22, 69, 112, 178, 224, 

226, 229, 231, 232 

jewelry (see also gems) 17, 22, 228 
lead 72, 82, 231 
liparite 22 
luxuries 67, 69, 142-143* *74 !77 

178, 182, 183, 184, 224 
malabathrum 231 
meat 112, 177, 233 
metals and metalware 79, 226, 229, 


myrrh 9, 10, 11, 13, 178, 230 
nard 179 
nuts 112, 176, 177 
olive oil 8, 17, 18, 69, 78, 79, no, in, 

113, 126, 176, 177, 182, 185, 191, 

193, 194, 224, 226, 233, 234 
papyrus 17, 22, 24, 54, 57, 112, 176, 


pearls 8, 178, 224, 231 
pepper 178, 179, 224, 228, 230, 231, 


perfume 16, 69, 79, 143, 178, 184, 230 
pillows 112 
pitch 124, 176 
pottery 4, 21, 22, 78, 79, 80, 81, in, 

193, 224, 226 
ruddle 124 
scarabs 79 
seals 8 

silk 69, 178, 224, 228, 230, 231, 232 
silver and silverware 16, 21, 33, 54, 

71, 72, 76, 81, 82, 224, 229, 230 
slaves 44, 45, 68-69, 112 182, 183, 

184, 185, 188, 200, 202, 203, 230 

Trade, objects of Continued 
spice 21, 69, 112, 143, 179, 184, 187, 

228, 230 

spikenard 179, 231 
sponges 177 

stone 8, 22, 79, 190, 224, 226 
textiles and garments 8, 16, 17, 22, 
54> 57> 67, 69, 143, 176, 182, 224, 

229, 230, 231 

timber 4, 5, 16, 17, 47-57, 67, 69, 

124, 176 
tin 22, 71, 72, 81, 82, 128, 138, 139, 

140, 176, 182, 231 
tortoise shell 178, 229, 231 
vinegar 177 

wine 18, 48, 57, 78, 81, 110, 111, 112, 
113, 118, 126, 176, 177, 180, 181, 
182, 183, 185, 191, 193, 194, 219, 
223, 224, 226, 227, 230, 231, 233, 234 
woods 8, 13, 16, 224 
wool 8, 77, 143, 224 
Trajan 225, 229, 236 
Transports 27, 98, 102, 210 
Transports for horses 98, 99, 102, 215- 


Triacontor: see warships 
Triemiolia: see warships 
Trierarch (see also warships, person- 
nel) 109, 125, 148 
Trireme: see warships 
Trireme, uses of 102 
Trireme tax 149 
Triremes, differences among 99-100, 


Triremes with reinforced prows 105 
Trojan War 33-36, 43 
Tropic of Cancer 132, 134 
Troy 33, 34, 35, 38, 39, 46, 176 
Tugboats 225 
Tunis 71, 190 
Tunisia 61, 189 
Turrets: see ships 
Tursha 32 

"Twelve": see warships 
"Twenty": see warships 
"Two-and-a-half": see warships 
Tyre 30, 45, 49, 67, 69, 70, 71, 72, 82, 

92, 179, 182, 185 
Tyrrhenian Sea 78, 125, 158, 201 


Ugarit 25 

Underwater archaeology 189-197, 226 

Uni 27 
Utica 71, 72 

Vandals 241 

Venice 246 

Ventris, Michael 23 

Verdi, Cape 135 

Vespasian 228, 234, 236 

Vesuvius, Mt. 209 

Vikings 37, 3 8 > 44> 45 6l 2 43 

Vinegar: see trade 

Volo 58 

Wadi Hammamat 10 
Walking the plank 203 
Warships: see also ships 
five-banked: see quinquereme 
four-banked: see quadrireme 
life of 98 
names of 212, 214 

admirals 97, 153, 154* *7 O 209, 211 
boatswain 154 
captain 95, 154* 211 
carpenter 95, 154 
catapultists 147, 155 
crews 93-96, 97, 124-125. 126, 145- 
146, 153-155, i59> l6o > l6 4> l6 5 
166, 211 

deck hands 95, 155 
doctor 154, 155 
executive officer 95, 154 
first lieutenant 95, 154 
helmsman 154 
marines 33, 84, 86, 95, 99, 100, 101, 

106, 146, 148, 155, 160, 162 
navigating officer 95 
"oar- thong man" 155 
officers 94-95, 153' 1 54 !55 211, 213 
oiler 154 

thalamite rowers 93, 94, 145 
thranite rowers 93-94, 96, i45> *53 
timebeater 95 
trierarch 95, 154 
zygite rowers 93, 94, 145 
range of 81, 102, 147-148 

Warships Continued 
slips 93, 111, 153 

tactics 84, 86, 90-91, 92, 99, 100-101, 
103-104, 105-106, 147-148, 149, 152, 
153, 161, 162-163, 164, 169-172 
three-banked: see trireme 
two-banked 85-88, 92, 99, 214, 243 

aphract 154 
cataphract 99, 154 
dromon 243-244 
hemiolia 86, 152, 154, 155, 202 
lembi 167 

Liburnian 201, 202, 213, 214, 222 
penteconter 81, 85, 88, 92, 93, 94, 

99, 102, 133 

quadrireme 125, 144, 145, 146, 
147, 148, 152, 154, 165, 169, 170, 
171, 208, 209, 213, 243 
quinquereme 125, 144, 145, 146, 
147, 152, 154, 155, 159, 160, 161, 
163, 164, 165, 166, 167, 169, 172, 

208, 209, 213 
triacontor 85, 102 
triemiolia 152-153, 214 

trireme 86, 92-107, 109, 111, 144, 
145, 146, 147, 148, 152, 155, 158, 
159, 161, 162, 163, 167, 169, 208, 

209, 213, 222, 243 
"one-and-a-half 86, 152, 154, 155, 


"two-and-a-half" 152-153, 214 
"six" 144, 145, 146, 147, 167, 169, 

207, 208, 209, 213 
"seven" 144, 145, 146, 147, 149, 

162, 163, 167, 169, 170, 208 
"eight" 144, 145, 146, 167, 208 
"nine" 144, 145, 146, i47> 1 4 8 > 

167, 208 

"ten" 144, 145, 146, 167, 208 
"eleven" 144, 147 
"twelve" 147 
"thirteen" 144, 147 
"fifteen" 144, 145 
"sixteen" 144, 145, 146, i49> X 5 
"eighteen" 145, 146 
"twenty" 145, 147 
"thirty" 145, 146, 147 
"forty" 145, 146 



Wenamon 47-57, 60, 66, 148 

Weret 49 

Werket-El 52 

Weshesh 32 

Wheat: see grain 


Aegean 34, 115 

Bay of Bengal 332 

Black Sea 115 

Dardanelles 76, 77, 107 

Etesian 115, 182 

Gulf of Corinth 104 

Gulf of Guinea 131, 133, 136 

Indian Ocean 131, 185-186, 228-229 

central 81, 234, 238 
eastern 43, 56, 115, 169, 234 
western 71, 131 

Monsoon: see Monsoon 

Red Sea 178 

Straits of Salamis 91 

Winds Continued 

West African 131, 133 
Wine: see trade 
Wine, method of shipping 193 
Wine jars (see also amphorae) 180 
Woods: see trade 
Wool: see trade 
Wrecks, ancient 189-197 

Xanthippus 148 

Xerxes 89, 90, 91, 102, 112, 132, 133 

Yavanas 227 
Yemen 178, 184 

Zarkar-Baal 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 


Zanzibar 229 
Zenon 177 
Zenothemis 116-118 
Zygite rowers: see warships, personnel